An efficient dielectric supports a varying charge with minimal dissipation of energy in the form of heat. There are two main forms of loss that may dissipate energy within a dielectric. In conduction loss, a flow of charge through the material causes energy dissipation. Dielectric loss is the dissipation of energy through the movement of charges in an alternating electromagnetic field as polarisation switches direction.
Dielectric loss is especially high around the relaxation or resonance frequencies of the polarisation mechanisms as the polarisation lags behind the applied field, causing an interaction between the field and the dielectric’s polarisation that results in heating. This is illustrated by the diagram below (recall that the dielectric constant drops as each polarisation mechanism becomes unable to keep up with the switching electric field.)
Dielectric loss tends to be higher in materials with higher dielectric constants. This is the downside of using these materials in practical applications.
Dielectric loss is utilised to heat food in a microwave oven: the frequency of the microwaves used is close to the relaxation frequency of the orientational polarisation mechanism in water, meaning that any water present absorbs a lot of energy that is then dissipated as heat. The exact frequency used is slightly away from the frequency at which maximum dielectric loss occurs in water to ensure that the microwaves are not all absorbed by the first layer of water they encounter, therefore allowing more even heating of the food.
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