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A contact-mode microstructure fabricated by surface micromachining was used to study the development of adhesion at sidewall contact surfaces during electrical actuation. Temporary and permanent changes in the adhesion force were monitored for different voltages applied across the contact interface. Relatively low current flow across the interface yielded a significant increase in the adhesion force. A portion of the increase was attributed to thermal heating of the contacting asperities. Current flow through asperity contacts lead to the accumulation of trapped charges in the insulating oxide layer, resulting in electrostatic attraction that was maintained after surface separation and with grounded surfaces. High current flow across asperity contacts due to dielectric breakdown of the native oxide layer at a critical voltage resulted in interfacial bonding that caused permanent adhesion of the sidewall surfaces.