Neutralization of Static Charges by Air Ions – Part II: Experimental Results

Associate Professor Neils Jonassen authored a bi-monthly static column that appeared in Compliance Engineering Magazine. The series explored charging, ionization, explosions, and other ESD related topics. The ESD Association, working with In Compliance Magazine is re-publishing this series as the articles offer timeless insight into the field of electrostatics.

Professor Jonassen was a member of the ESD Association from 1983-2006. He received the ESD Association Outstanding Contribution Award in 1989 and authored technical papers, books and technical reports. He is remembered for his contributions to the understanding of Electrostatic control, and in his memory we reprise “Mr. Static”.

~ The ESD Association

Reprinted with permission from: Compliance Engineering Magazine, Mr. Static Column Copyright © UBM Cannon

This second installment on charge neutralization demonstrates that a CPM can be used to determine fundamental atmospheric electric quantities.

The most commonly used instrument for evaluating the ionization state of an atmosphere is the charged-plate monitor (CPM) shown in Figure 1. In the figure, a metal plate with the area A is placed a distance d from a ground plate in which is inserted a fieldmeter probe. The charged plate can be charged to a selected voltage (usually 1 or 5 kV), and the voltage can be measured on the fieldmeter.

1305 mrstatic fig1

Figure 1: Charged-plate monitor


When an atmosphere or ionization system is to be evaluated, the charged plate is exposed to the atmosphere, charged to a selected voltage, and the time, t10, for the voltage to drop to one-tenth of the starting voltage is measured. This time depends on the geometry of the CPM and the negative resistivity of the air if a positive voltage is chosen. Consequently, it is not possible to use a CPM measurement to predict directly how fast an arbitrary item will be neutralized, even when both the CPM and the item are exposed to the same atmosphere. However, in many cases, the neutralization time for an item can be deduced indirectly from CPM measurements.

Theory of a CPM

In Part I of this article, it was shown that the charge on a positively charged body suspended freely in air will be neutralized exponentially with a time constant of

1305 mrstatic eq1    (1)

where ρ– is the resistivity of the air due to negative ions.1

The time constant in an exponential decay is the time it takes the decaying quantity to drop to 1/e of the initial value, with e being the base of the natural logarithm (≈ 2.72). Consequently, for any system with the time constant τ, there is the relationship

1305 mrstatic eq2    (2)

The time constant τo (known as the fundamental time constant) given by Equation 1 is the lowest time constant for any system in an atmosphere characterized by the parameters εo and ρ.

Figure 2 shows a system consisting of a positively charged metal plate with the area A, separated from ground by a dielectric with the thickness d and the relative permittivity εr.


1305 mrstatic fig2

Figure 2: Charged plate near ground


In Part I, it was suggested that the plate A, when exposed to an atmosphere with the fundamental time constant τ+o, would have a time constant τ+ given by

1305 mrstatic eq3     (3)


1305 mrstatic eq4    (4)

The variable r is the (equivalent) radius of the metal plate

1305 mrstatic eq4-1

where O is the circumference of plate A. The variable εr is the relative permittivity of the dielectric. The capacitance Ca of the metal plate relative to the air was approximated by

1305 mrstatic eq5    (5)

Introducing Equations 4 and 5 into Equation 3 gives

1305 mrstatic eq6    (6)

When applying Equation 3 on a CPM, as shown in Figure 1, Equation 6 reduces to

1305 mrstatic eq7    (7)

because εr = 1 for air.

It should be mentioned that, in some CPMs, the plate voltage is monitored by a noncontacting voltmeter, which may add a stray capacitance Cs from the support. In such cases, the factor

1305 mrstatic eq7-1

should be replaced by

1305 mrstatic eq7-2

Experimental Results

To verify experimentally the relationship expressed in Equation 7, it is necessary to be able to establish an atmosphere with a known value for τo. Although the fundamental time constant, τo, cannot be measured directly, Equation 1 may be reformulated, writing ρ as

1305 mrstatic eq8    (8)

where e is the electronic (and small-ion) charge, k is the mobility of negative ions, and n is the relevant negative-ion concentration.

Combining Equations 1, 4, and 5 gives the following results:

1305 mrstatic eq9       (9)


1305 mrstatic eq10   (10)

The constants in Equations 4, 5, 9, and 10 had the following values: r = 9 · 10–2 m, d = 1.5 · 10–2 m, εo = 8.85 · 10–12 F · m–1, e = 1.6 · 10–19 C, k ≈ 1.8 · 10–4 m2 · V–1 · s–1, and k+ ≈ 1.4 · 10–4 m2 · V–1 · s–1. Substituting these values into the relevant equations results in the following capacitance and decay-time values to be recorded on the CPM: Cd = 15 pF, Ca = 5 pF,

1305 mrstatic eq11    (11)


1305 mrstatic eq12    (12)

The setup shown in Figure 3 was used for the experiments. An ionizer was placed at a well-defined distance from an ion-density meter. Because an ion blower was used as the ionizer, the air intake of the ion-density meter was placed perpendicular to the airflow so that the airflow would not be disturbed through the meter. The CPM was placed on top of the ion-density meter. It is important that the field from the charged plate is insignificant at the air intake, and the placement on top of the ion-density meter turned out to be the best because the CPM also needed to be exposed to the ionized airflow.


1305 mrstatic fig3

Figure 3: Experimental setup


A series of experiments were performed in which the positive- and negative-ion density and the corresponding decay times (t10 values) were measured. The ion densities were varied by varying the distance a between the ionizer and the ion-density meter. For each distance, the average ion density and the decay times for positive and negative voltages were measured. The results are shown in Table 1. Each of the decay times is the average of five measurements.


1305 mrstatic table1

Table 1: Ion concentrations and CPM decay times.


To compare the experimental results with the predictions of Equations 11 and 12, the products

1305 mrstatic eq12-1


1305 mrstatic eq12-2

were calculated with the following results:

1305 mrstatic eq13    (13)


1305 mrstatic eq14    (14)

It appears that the coefficients in the experimentally determined Equations 13 and 14 are 14–15% greater than the theoretical values of the corresponding Equations 12 and 11, respectively. This discrepancy must be caused by the approximation used in evaluating the air capacitance Ca (Equation 5), which overestimated the capacitance by about 19%. Therefore, Equation 5 should read

1305 mrstatic eq5a    (5a)

resulting in Ca = 4.2 pF for the CPM investigated. Correspondingly, Equations 6, 7, 9, and 10 become

1305 mrstatic eq6a    (6a)

1305 mrstatic eq7a    (7a)

1305 mrstatic eq9a    (9a)


1305 mrstatic eq10a    (10a)

Discussion of the Results

The equations developed in this article indicate that, by the use of a CPM with given geometric and dielectric characteristics, it is possible to predict the ion concentrations and resistivities of a given (ionized) atmosphere. However, a more-important implication is that it is, in many cases, also possible to estimate how fast an ordinary charged item (i.e., not just a CPM) will be neutralized in a given atmosphere.

For example, if Equation 7a is applied on the CPM used in this investigation (i.e., r = 9 ·10–2 m and d = 1.5 ·10–2 m), the result would be

1305 mrstatic eq7b    (7b)

Equation 7b indicates that, for a given atmosphere, the CPM will measure a time constant that is 4.57 times greater than the fundamental time constant for the atmosphere in question.

Now assume there is an item like that shown in Figure 2, with a charged metal plate A, an effective radius ri = 0.1 m, a thickness di = 10-2 m, and a relative permittivity εr,i = 4.0. According to Equation 6a, the time constant should be

1305 mrstatic eq6b    (6b)

Combining Equation 6b with 7b results in

1305 mrstatic eq15    (15)

It is therefore possible to use a CPM measurement to predict how fast a charged metal plate, separated from ground by a dielectric, will be neutralized.

Labeling the parameters of the CPM with c and of the item with i, the general equation relating a predicted neutralization time with the corresponding time measured by a CPM will be

1305 mrstatic eq16    (16)

Equation 16 is valid for positive as well as negative voltages, corresponding to ions of opposite polarities, and for time constants as well as for t10 times.


As was explained in Part I, the neutralization of a charge located on the surface of a dielectric follows the same rules as that of a charge located on the surface of a conductive plate.1 The equations in this article are therefore valid when ri is the radius of the charged area, εr,i is the relative permittivity, and di is the thickness of the dielectric.


It has been demonstrated that it is possible to use a CPM with given dimensions to determine fundamental atmospheric electric quantities such as ion density and resistivity. Furthermore, it has been shown that the neutralization time for commonly shaped charged conductors, as well as for insulators, can be deduced from measurements of the neutralization time with a CPM. favicon


The cooperation of Ion Systems (Culemborg, The Netherlands) and Simco (Lochem, The Netherlands) for allowing the use of their ion blower and ion bar, respectively, is greatly appreciated.


  1. Niels Jonassen, “Neutralization of Static Charges by Air Ions: Part 1, Theory” in Mr. Static, Compliance Engineering 19, no. 4 (2002): 28–31.


author_jonassen-niels Niels Jonassen, MSc, DSc
worked for 40 years at the Technical University of Denmark, where he conducted classes in electromagnetism, static and atmospheric electricity, airborne radioactivity, and indoor climate. After retiring, he divided his time among the laboratory, his home, and Thailand, writing on static electricity topics and pursuing cooking classes. Mr. Jonassen passed away in 2006.