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1887

## Mechanisms of air breakdown

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Studies of air breakdown began in the eighteenth century. Two names are pre-eminent: Franklin and Lichtenberg, although contemporaries were active. Franklin's work grew out of his interest in lightning a long spark while Lichtenberg drew tree-like discharges, now called corona, across the surface of a large cake of resin. These two men defined two broad approaches to the study of breakdown which are perpetuated to this day in experimental and theoretical work. In the late 19th century, the emergence of modern physics, exemplified by the work of Townsend and his successors, permitted knowledge of the process of ionisation to be applied to these phenomena. The two approaches were thus linked and another concept from the 18th century, the electric field, became established as paramount in all discussions of the subject.

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