Two different breakdown voltage measurements of a material are the AC and impulse breakdown voltages. The AC voltage is the line frequency of the mains (either 50 or 60 Hz depending on where you live). The impulse breakdown voltage is simulating lightning strikes, and usually uses a 1.2 microsecond rise for the wave to reach 90% amplitude then drops back down to 50% amplitude after 50 microseconds.
Two technical standards governing performing these tests are ASTM D1816 and ASTM D3300 published by ASTM.
In standard conditions at atmospheric pressure, gas serves as an excellent insulator, requiring the application of a significant voltage before breaking down (e.g. lightning). In vacuum, this breakdown potential may decrease to an extent that two uninsulated surfaces with different potentials might induce the electrical breakdown of the surrounding gas. This has some useful applications in industry (e.g. the production of microprocessors) but in other situations may damage an apparatus, as breakdown is analogous to a short circuit.
The breakdown voltage in vacuum is represented as
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