Ball Insulator Medium Size
Electrical insulation is the absence of electrical conduction. Electronic band theory (a branch of physics) says that a charge flows if states are available into which electrons can be excited. This allows electrons to gain energy and thereby move through a conductor such as a metal. If no such states are available, the material is an insulator.
Most (though not all, see Mott insulator) insulators have a large band gap. This occurs because the "valence" band containing the highest energy electrons is full, and a large energy gap separates this band from the next band above it. There is always some voltage (called the breakdown voltage) that gives electrons enough energy to be excited into this band. Once this voltage is exceeded the material ceases being an insulator, and charge begins to pass through it. However, it is usually accompanied by physical or chemical changes that permanently degrade the material's insulating properties.
Materials that lack electron conduction are insulators if they lack other mobile charges as well. For example, if a liquid or gas contains ions, then the ions can be made to flow as an electric current, and the material is a conductor. Electrolytes and plasmas contain ions and act as conductors whether or not electron flow is involved.
A flexible coating of an insulator is often applied to electric wire and cable, this is called insulated wire. Since air is an insulator, in principle no other substance is needed to keep power where it should be. High-voltage power lines commonly use just air, since a solid (e.g., plastic) coating is impractical. However, wires that touch each other produce cross connections, short circuits, and fire hazards. In coaxial cable the center conductor must be supported exactly in the middle of the hollow shield in order to prevent EM wave reflections. Finally, wires that expose voltages higher than 60V can cause human shock and electrocution hazards. Insulating coatings help to prevent all of these problems.
Some wires have a mechanical covering with no voltage rating—e.g.: service-drop, welding, doorbell, thermostat wire. An insulated wire or cable has a voltage rating and a maximum conductor temperature rating. It may not have an ampacity (current-carrying capacity) rating, since this is dependent upon the surrounding environment (e.g. ambient temperature).
In electronic systems, printed circuit boards are made from epoxy plastic and fibreglass. The nonconductive boards support layers of copper foil conductors. In electronic devices, the tiny and delicate active components are embedded within nonconductive epoxy or phenolic plastics, or within baked glass or ceramic coatings.
In microelectronic components such as transistors and ICs, the silicon material is normally a conductor because of doping, but it can easily be selectively transformed into a good insulator by the application of heat and oxygen. Oxidised silicon is quartz, i.e. silicon dioxide, the primary component of glass.
In high voltage systems containing transformers and capacitors, liquid insulator oil is the typical method used for preventing arcs. The oil replaces air in spaces that must support significant voltage without electrical breakdown. Other high voltage system insulation materials include ceramic or glass wire holders, gas, vacuum, and simply placing wires enough far apart to use air as insulation.
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