To read this content please select one of the options below:

Whisker Formation on Electronic Materials

B.D. Dunn (Materials Section Product Assurance Division ESTEC, European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherlands)

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 1 March 1976



The filamentary growths of single crystals on material surfaces are termed whiskers. They are seen to nucleate and grow on certain electronic materials either from vapour and liquid phases or by a process induced by residual stresses in electroplated surfaces. Whisker growth does not depend on the existence of an electric field and surfaces prone to their growth may nucleate and form whiskers as a result of exposure to a space environment. This paper includes a detailed examination of tin whiskers which were found to have 1 to 4 micron diameters and lengths exceeding 2 mm. Some were found to carry currents between 22 and 32 mA before burning out. Conductive whiskers can cause extensive short circuit damage to spacecraft electronics particularly as miniature devices progressively employ closer spacings between conductors. Several modes of whisker growth on spacecraft electronic materials (molybdenum, tungsten, Kovar, tin) have been observed and are described. Tin, cadmium and zinc surfaces can support stress‐induced whisker growth and it is recommended that these metal finishes are excluded from spacecraft design and possibly replaced by a tin‐lead alloy.


Dunn, B.D. (1976), "Whisker Formation on Electronic Materials", Circuit World, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 32-40.




Copyright © 1976, MCB UP Limited

Related articles