Shocking development shows how plastic electrical insulation breaks down


Duke University engineers have documented at the microscopic level how plastic breaks down as it is subjected to electric voltage in a development that could lead to new materials, which improve the durability and efficiency of polymers that come into contact with electrical currents.

Xuanhe Zhao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, said that researchers have known for some time that polymers eventually break down when subjected to an increasing electrical voltage, but they can now watch the process as it happens in real time.

The Duke researchers attached a soft polymer to another rigid polymer layer, which acted as a protective substrate, and enabled the observation of the deformation process without incurring the breakdown. The polymer-substrate was then subjected to various electrical voltages, with the effects observed under a microscope....
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