Charging of dielectrics on contact and separation has puzzled scientists and engineers for centuries. In a conventional view, the charges emerging on the two surfaces derive from the properties of the contacting materials, are of opposite polarities and are distributed approximately uniformly. However, a body of evidence has been mounting that contact electrification can also produce heterogeneous charge distributions in the form of (+/-) charge mosaics on each of the surfaces—yet, despite many attempts, no predictive model explaining the formation of mosaics at different length scales has been proposed; the main line of thinking has been that they must reflect some spatial heterogeneity present in the contacting materials. Here we describe experiments and theoretical models that prove a fundamentally different origin of mosaic formation: namely, not due to the properties of the contacting materials but due to electrostatic discharges between the separating surfaces. In particular, as the gap between the contact-charging surfaces grows, the threshold of the electric-field magnitude required for electrostatic discharge by Paschen’s law decreases, and eventually becomes lower than the electric field created in the gap by surface charges. Once a discharge starts, it continues not only until neutralizing but also locally inverting the surface charges. It is then the cycles of such discharges along the delamination front that give rise to the bipolar charge mosaics.
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All the custom computer codes used in the present work (SKP control, experiment automation, data analysis and simulations) are available via Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6650954. Experimental data and simulation results are available via the Harvard Dataverse repository at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/ZOFDKM.
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We thank C. Cahoon for the X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy measurements; S. R. Waitukaitis for a critical peer review of the manuscript and multiple corrections to the polarity-inversion condition; E. Edel and S. Zyubin for providing full texts of rare, early twentieth-century articles. We thank the Institute for Basic Science, Korea, for generous funding under Project IBS-R020-D1.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary Sections 1–10, Figs. 1–34, captions to Supplementary Videos 1–3 and refs. 1–45.
a–c, Recording of ESD by a high-sensitivity camera: both raw video (b) and enhanced by post-processing (c) are shown in parallel with the coulomb-meter recording (a). Spikes of coulomb-meter current accompany ESD events. d, Charge density of the PMMA film measured by SKP after the experiment. This recording corresponds to Fig. 3.
Video recording and real-time data from a single experiment, with reconstruction of charge mosaics’ emergence.
Computational model of the ESD events occurring in the course of the detachment (peeling) process. This video corresponds to Fig. 6. Flow of time in this animation is not uniform: whenever an ESD occurs, detachment progress (indicated on top) is halted and multiple iterations of the computational model are performed until the ESD is extinguished. This simulation was performed using an initial charge density of 𝜎0 = 9 nC cm−2.
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Sobolev, Y.I., Adamkiewicz, W., Siek, M. et al. Charge mosaics on contact-electrified dielectrics result from polarity-inverting discharges. Nat. Phys. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-022-01714-9