zinc whiskers

Zinc whiskers are tiny growths of elemental zinc that form on the surfaces of objects that are electroplated, or galvanized, with zinc. When present on circuit boards or other electronic objects, zinc whiskers can cause short circuits that are difficult to diagnose. Objects that can develop zinc whiskers include nuts and bolts, steel conduits, sheet metal, metal railings, and certain types of tile flooring.

Like tin whiskers, a similar phenomenon, zinc whiskers break loose and become airborne when surfaces are mechanically disturbed. Ordinary daily activity is sufficient to cause this, particularly in zinc-plated raised tile floors. Zinc is an excellent conductor of electricity. Zinc whiskers settle like dust on circuit boards and other electronic components. Eventually, they can cause short circuits, resulting in equipment malfunction or failure.

Zinc-whisker-related problems can be difficult to diagnose, because the particles disintegrate when a short circuit occurs. In addition, unless technicians are aware that this phenomenon can occur, it may not be suspected as a potential source of trouble.

This was last updated in June 2008

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