# What "mode" is static electricity (lightning?) Is it common-mode, differential-mode? It seems half-way, or "mono"

The common-mode or differential-mode designations assume two conductors, one in-phase, the other anti-phase, but a static circuit is different because the "conductor" is concentrated in thin lines during discharge, but distributed (and delayed) during the return, so it's as if the signal is just "mono" and neither common-mode, or differential-mode.

The common-mode choke is used to protect against common-mode noise which comes in both lines with the same polarity and amplitude, and can then oppose each other when trying to energize the magnetics of common-mode choke.

I understand that, in addition to common-mode noise, there is another kind of noise called differential-mode noise, which I assume goes in one line and back out the other, with equal and opposite polarity, which I would assume would be similar to the signal in one twisted-pair of an ethernet cable. But that's a desired signal. There are obviously other differential-mode energies that can be thrust upon a pair of conductors that are not-desired, where the energy goes out one wire and comes back in another wire (though I'm not sure what this typically is).

Static electricity is also different because the voltage is so much higher, creating a circumstance where it comes in only one of the conductors, so it is therefore neither common-mode nor differential-mode, but some kind of half-differential mode (or mono mode). Each line having its own choke (in my mind) would be a way to protect against this. But I hadn't heard about a third mode, where the return for the circuit would be outside of the device and not coming back on any conductor. Would you please tell me the name of this "third" mode, and a little bit about it? Thanks.

• It's common mode if it hits both and differential if it hits only one. Really it's outside the bounds of "noise" and more an issue of damage. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 15:55
• Using circuit theory to analyze lightning is not useful, circuit theory is built on a small subset of solutions to maxwell's equations representing the canonical linear elements. There exist many real solutions of the field equations that will not make sense under any circuit model. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 18:18
• @crasic -- The practicality of this line of thinking started by asking myself how to protect an N-MOSFET gate from static electricity... So what kind of problem is it? Common-mode? Differential-mode? it is neither. So began my quest. "Not useful"?? Not sure what you mean. How would you protect a MOSFET gate exposed as a touch switch? It is very practical, and the question of how to protect the gate from static electricity must be solved, or the switch is useless. So would a common-mode choke be useless? Would it be good enough? Would chokes around individual lines be better? Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:10
• @MicroservicesOnDDD It is neither mode, it is ESD protection involving instantaneous movement of charges not part of a traditional circuit . If you want a model, consider a relatively small capacitor at arbitrarily high voltage that randomly connects itself to either one or several pins, with arbitrary delay between them, or none. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:43
• I don't know why you insist you need to look up terms such as "differential" or common-mode" or similar terms for ESD protection. You want ESD protection so just look up ESD protection. Would I be accurate in guessing that the reason is you somehow got the idea that a choke might be useful for ESD protection and then honed in on that? I'll tell you now it probably won't be useful for the reasons mentioned in my answer. It's might be useful if you expect lightning to induce something onto some long buried differential lines, but that isn't your scenario. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:46

I'd be careful about trying to box things into human classifications just because. Just because we have classifications for something doesn't mean they exhaustively encompass all, or even most, possibilities between them. Classifications exist not for exhaustiveness, but for usefulness and convenience of communication.

I also believe that differential and common mode don't mean anything without a circuit, since it's all relative to whether it enters the circuit on terminal relative to another terminal, or whether it enters multiple terminals. In other words, if you want to try and classify ESD and lighting this way, then it just depends where the ESD and lighthing travel rather than whether it is ESD or lightning itself. What determines whether it is differential or common mode is not the fact that it is ESD or lightning. What determines it is where that ESD or lightning enters or exits the circuit. It could be either depending on circumstance, or could simply not fall into the nice neat box of differential vs common mode which we use in circuit models (which assume closed loop currents).

For example, if I touch have a charged floating conductor touch it to another metal conductor to re-distribute and equalize that charge. What is that? There's not really a return path. You can model a closed-loop circuit with a return path using the free-space capacitance but that is more forcing a real life situation into a way you can handle it with a circuit where it is more easily worked with so you don't have to work directly with the more complicated physics.

How about if that charged, floating conductor...

1. touches two input terminals and a ground terminal?
2. Or what if it just touches an input terminal? Or both input terminals?
3. Or just the ground terminal?

A charge equalization happens in all cases with charge flowing in the same direction through one pin, or multiple pins, but there is no return path (unless you consider the free space capacitance model to be that return path that).

Maybe it is differential if charge travels over one-pin and common-mode if it travels over multiple pins, but with no return path, is it really? But consider this: Without a second terminal with charge flowing in the opposite direction to form a return path, your differential choke won't do much for #2 or #3 despite being called differential.

Whatever you call it, it doesn't change what is happening and you design for it. That said, I would assume the free-space capacitance acts as the return more often that not (i.e. there is no real return path, especially one through the pins) so magnetic cancellation that expects a differential current is probably mostly useless.

However, I believe common-mode magnetic cancellation is only slightly less useless because you must hit the same terminals the common mode choke is across at the exact same time. ESD is fast enough to do most of the damage if you do not immediately make simultaneous contact with both terminals on the common-mode choke due to the small window where one terminal touches slighty before the other thereby permitting charge equalization through just one choke terminal. A resistor or single-ended choke with low parasitic capacitance would probably be more effective all around.

• @MicroservicesOnDDD My point is you seem to want to ask whether ESD or lightning is differential or common mode (the implication being that it must always be one but never the other), and what I am saying is that this is the wrong approach. It is not always common mode or always differential; It can be either, depending on how it enters the circuit. Certainly it could be common mode (or something vaguely like it), but it is not always common mode. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 16:35
• @MicroservicesOnDDD Yes ESD and lightning falls more under the realm of generalized charge movement outside of the box of circuit analysis. I know of no term for it other than it is simply the equalization or redistribution of charge. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:25
• @MicroservicesOnDDD I would stop try to classify it such restrictive terms of circuit analysis as you are trying to do. ESD and lightning are not clean cut and don't follow circuit paths (they'll couple through any capacitance and just kind of spill everywhere if you let them get too far into the circuit where things are in close proximity). Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:28
• What you generally do is provide the circuit ground plane with as much free-space capacitance as possible via a chassis so the voltage will shift as little as possible for a given amount of charge change, then tie every single line in your circuit (including the GND terminals) to that chassis. Also, if possible, place series resistors or ferrites with capacitors to your ground plane (not your chassis) to slow the limit residual charge that get past the TVS diodes and the resulting voltage rise getting to your pins. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:29
• And of course, minimizing inductance along the desired path of ESD flow and parasitic capacitance to the protected areas is super important. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 1:31