Electrostatic Discharge

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What Does Electrostatic Discharge Mean?

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is a swift discharge of electric current between two objects with different charges and different numbers of electrons. This exchange of electrons creates a large electromagnetic field buildup, resulting in ESD.


Certain electronic devices are vulnerable to low-voltage ESD. For example, a hard drive is susceptible to just 10 volts. Integrated circuits (IC) are also prone to ESD and may be permanently damaged by high-voltage currents.

Techopedia Explains Electrostatic Discharge

ESD has several causes, but static electricity and electrostatic induction are the most common. Static electricity is often produced through tribocharging, while electrostatic induction results from the rearrangement of electrical charges as an object. Generally, tribocharging results when the surface of an object gains negative electrons as another object loses electrons and becomes positively charged. When opposite charged objects come into contact with each other, electrons transfer energy and then separate, creating a type of contact electrification of electrical charges.

ESD causes two types of electrical equipment damage, as follows:

  • Catastrophic: Creates permanent damage
  • Upset failure: Nearly indetectable. Damages components, but there may be a degree of continued equipment performance.

To avoid ESD, procedures should be followed to reduce or eliminate electrical current. Removing materials with high ESD buildup is crucial. Additionally, grounding is essential for blocking ESD. Everything in a work or home environment should be connected to a reliable grounding system.

The following grounding utilities protect electronic components, including hard drives, expansion cards, motherboard, processors and memory modules:

  • Ground bracelets or anti-static wrist strap: Worn on the wrist and attached to a ground conductor, such as a ground mat or computer case. Safely directs static electricity to the ground.
  • Ground or anti-static mat: Plugs into an outlet to provide a grounding surface used to absorb static electricity.
  • Static shielding bag: Often used when shipping printed circuit boards or other modules. Protects electronic components from static buildup via an anti-static agent or material.

Some components, such as a monitor and power supply, should never be grounded because they maintain high charges of electricity – even when turned off. They also contain capacitors that store high volumes of electric energy, which are capable of stopping the human heart.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.