All of us have the experience of seeing a spark or hearing a crackle when we take off our synthetic clothes or sweater, particularly in dry weather. This is almost inevitable with ladies garments like a polyester saree. Have you ever tried to find any explanation for this phenomenon? Another common example of electric discharge is the lightning that we see in the sky during thunderstorms. We also experience a sensation of an electric shock either while opening the door of a car or holding the iron bar of a bus after sliding from our seat. The reason for these experiences is discharge of electric charges through our body, which were accumulated due to rubbing of insulating surfaces. You might have also heard that this is due to generation of static electricity. This is precisely the topic we are going to discuss in this and the next chapter. Static means anything that does not move or change with time. Electrostatics deals with the study of forces, fields and potentials arising from static charges.
Historically the credit of discovery of the fact that amber rubbed with wool or silk cloth attracts light objects goes to Thales of Miletus, Greece, around 600 BC. The name electricity is coined from the Greek word elektron meaning amber. Many such pairs of materials were known which on rubbing could attract light objects like straw, pith balls and bits of papers. You can perform the following activity at home to experience such an effect. Cut out long thin strips of white paper and lightly iron them. Take them near a TV screen or computer monitor. You will see that the strips get attracted to the screen. In fact they remain stuck to the screen for a while.
Figure 1.1 Rods and pith balls: like charges repel and unlike charges attract each other.
It was observed that if two glass rods rubbed with wool or silk cloth are brought close to each other, they repel each other [Fig. 1.1(a)]. The two strands of wool or two pieces of silk cloth, with which the rods were rubbed, also repel each other. However, the glass rod and wool attracted each other. Similarly, two plastic rods rubbed with cat’s fur repelled each other [Fig. 1.1(b)] but attracted the fur. On the other hand, the plastic rod attracts the glass rod [Fig. 1.1(c)] and repel the silk or wool with which the glass rod is rubbed. The glass rod repels the fur.
If a plastic rod rubbed with fur is made to touch two small pith balls (now-a-days we can use polystyrene balls) suspended by silk or nylon thread, then the balls repel each other [Fig. 1.1(d)] and are also repelled by the rod. A similar effect is found if the pith balls are touched with a glass rod rubbed with silk [Fig. 1.1(e)]. A dramatic observation is that a pith ball touched with glass rod attracts another pith ball touched with plastic rod [Fig. 1.1(f)].
These seemingly simple facts were established from years of efforts and careful experiments and their analyses. It was concluded, after many careful studies by different scientists, that there were only two kinds of an entity which is called the electric charge. We say that the bodies like glass or plastic rods, silk, fur and pith balls are electrified. They acquire an electric charge on rubbing. The experiments on pith balls suggested that there are two kinds of electrification and we find that (i) like charges repel and (ii) unlike charges attract each other. The experiments also demonstrated that the charges are transferred from the rods to the pith balls on contact. It is said that the pith balls are electrified or are charged by contact. The property which differentiates the two kinds of charges is called the polarity of charge.
When a glass rod is rubbed with silk, the rod acquires one kind of charge and the silk acquires the second kind of charge. This is true for any pair of objects that are rubbed to be electrified. Now if the electrified glass rod is brought in contact with silk, with which it was rubbed, they no longer attract each other. They also do not attract or repel other light objects as they did on being electrified.
Thus, the charges acquired after rubbing are lost when the charged bodies are brought in contact. What can you conclude from these observations? It just tells us that unlike charges acquired by the objects neutralise or nullify each other’s effect. Therefore, the charges were named as positive and negative by the American scientist Benjamin Franklin. We know that when we add a positive number to a negative number of the same magnitude, the sum is zero. This might have been the philosophy in naming the charges as positive and negative. By convention, the charge on glass rod or cat’s fur is called positive and that on plastic rod or silk is termed negative. If an object possesses an electric charge, it is said to be electrified or charged. When it has no charge it is said to be electrically neutral.
A simple apparatus to detect charge on a body is the gold-leaf electroscope [Fig. 1.2(a)]. It consists of a vertical metal rod housed in a box, with two thin gold leaves attached to its bottom end. When a charged object touches the metal knob at the top of the rod, charge flows on to the leaves and they diverge. The degree of divergance is an indicator of the amount of charge.
Unification of electricity and magnetism
In olden days, electricity and magnetism were treated as separate subjects. Electricity dealt with charges on glass rods, cat’s fur, batteries, lightning, etc., while magnetism described interactions of magnets, iron filings, compass needles, etc. In 1820 Danish scientist Oersted found that a compass needle is deflected by passing an electric current through a wire placed near the needle. Ampere and Faraday supported this observation by saying that electric charges in motion produce magnetic fields and moving magnets generate electricity. The unification was achieved when the Scottish physicist Maxwell and the Dutch physicist Lorentz put forward a theory where they showed the interdependence of these two subjects. This field is called electromagnetism. Most of the phenomena occurring around us can be described under electromagnetism. Virtually every force that we can think of like friction, chemical force between atoms holding the matter together, and even the forces describing processes occurring in cells of living organisms, have its origin in electromagnetic force. Electromagnetic force is one of the fundamental forces of nature.
Maxwell put forth four equations that play the same role in classical electromagnetism as Newton’s equations of motion and gravitation law play in mechanics. He also argued that light is electromagnetic in nature and its speed can be found by making purely electric and magnetic measurements. He claimed that the science of optics is intimately related to that of electricity and magnetism.
The science of electricity and magnetism is the foundation for the modern technological civilisation. Electric power, telecommunication, radio and television, and a wide variety of the practical appliances used in daily life are based on the principles of this science. Although charged particles in motion exert both electric and magnetic forces, in the frame of reference where all the charges are at rest, the forces are purely electrical. You know that gravitational force is a long-range force. Its effect is felt even when the distance between the interacting particles is very large because the force decreases inversely as the square of the distance between the interacting bodies. We will learn in this chapter that electric force is also as pervasive and is in fact stronger than the gravitational force by several orders of magnitude (refer to Chapter 1 of Class XI Physics Textbook).
Students can make a simple electroscope as follows [Fig. 1.2(b)]: Take a thin aluminium curtain rod with ball ends fitted for hanging the curtain. Cut out a piece of length about 20 cm with the ball at one end and flatten the cut end. Take a large bottle that can hold this rod and a cork which will fit in the opening of the bottle. Make a hole in the cork sufficient to hold the curtain rod snugly. Slide the rod through the hole in the cork with the cut end on the lower side and ball end projecting above the cork. Fold a small, thin aluminium foil (about 6 cm in length) in the middle and attach it to the flattened end of the rod by cellulose tape. This forms the leaves of your electroscope. Fit the cork in the bottle with about 5 cm of the ball end projecting above the cork. A paper scale may be put inside the bottle in advance to measure the separation of leaves. The separation is a rough measure of the amount of charge on the electroscope.
Figure 1.2 Electroscopes: (a) The gold leaf electroscope, (b) Schematics of a simple electroscope.
To understand how the electroscope works, use the white paper strips we used for seeing the attraction of charged bodies. Fold the strips into half so that you make a mark of fold. Open the strip and iron it lightly with the mountain fold up, as shown in Fig. 1.3. Hold the strip by pinching it at the fold. You would notice that the two halves move apart. This shows that the strip has acquired charge on ironing. When you fold it into half, both the halves have the same charge. Hence they repel each other. The same effect is seen in the leaf electroscope. On charging the curtain rod by touching the ball end with an electrified body, charge is transferred to the curtain rod and the attached aluminium foil. Both the halves of the foil get similar charge and therefore repel each other. The divergence in the leaves depends on the amount of charge on them. Let us first try to understand why material bodies acquire charge.
You know that all matter is made up of atoms and/or molecules. Although normally the materials are electrically neutral, they do contain charges; but their charges are exactly balanced. Forces that hold the molecules together, forces that hold atoms together in a solid, the adhesive force of glue, forces associated with surface tension, all are basically electrical in nature, arising from the forces between charged particles. Thus the electric force is all pervasive and it encompasses almost each and every field associated with our life. It is therefore essential that we learn more about such a force.
To electrify a neutral body, we need to add or remove one kind of charge. When we say that a body is charged, we always refer to this excess charge or deficit of charge. In solids, some of the electrons, being less tightly bound in the atom, are the charges which are transferred from one body to the other. A body can thus be charged positively by losing some of its electrons. Similarly, a body can be charged negatively by gaining electrons. When we rub a glass rod with silk, some of the electrons from the rod are transferred to the silk cloth. Thus the rod gets positively charged and the silk gets negatively charged. No new charge is created in the process of rubbing. Also the number of electrons, that are transferred, is a very small fraction of the total number of electrons in the material body. Also only the less tightly bound electrons in a material body can be transferred from it to another by rubbing. Therefore, when a body is rubbed with another, the bodies get charged and that is why we have to stick to certain pairs of materials to notice charging on rubbing the bodies.
A metal rod held in hand and rubbed with wool will not show any sign of being charged. However, if a metal rod with a wooden or plastic handle is rubbed without touching its metal part, it shows signs of charging. Suppose we connect one end of a copper wire to a neutral pith ball and the other end to a negatively charged plastic rod. We will find that the pith ball acquires a negative charge. If a similar experiment is repeated with a nylon thread or a rubber band, no transfer of charge will take place from the plastic rod to the pith ball. Why does the transfer of charge not take place from the rod to the ball?
Some substances readily allow passage of electricity through them, others do not. Those which allow electricity to pass through them easily are called conductors. They have electric charges (electrons) that are comparatively free to move inside the material. Metals, human and animal bodies and earth are conductors. Most of the non-metals like glass, porcelain, plastic, nylon, wood offer high resistance to the passage of electricity through them. They are called insulators. Most substances fall into one of the two classes stated above*.
When some charge is transferred to a conductor, it readily gets distributed over the entire surface of the conductor. In contrast, if some charge is put on an insulator, it stays at the same place. You will learn why this happens in the next chapter.
This property of the materials tells you why a nylon or plastic comb gets electrified on combing dry hair or on rubbing, but a metal article like spoon does not. The charges on metal leak through our body to the ground as both are conductors of electricity.
When we bring a charged body in contact with the earth, all the excess charge on the body disappears by causing a momentary current to pass to the ground through the connecting conductor (such as our body). This process of sharing the charges with the earth is called grounding or earthing. Earthing provides a safety measure for electrical circuits and appliances. A thick metal plate is buried deep into the earth and thick wires are drawn from this plate; these are used in buildings for the purpose of earthing near the mains supply. The electric wiring in our houses has three wires: live, neutral and earth. The first two carry electric current from the power station and the third is earthed by connecting it to the buried metal plate. Metallic bodies of the electric appliances such as electric iron, refrigerator, TV are connected to the earth wire. When any fault occurs or live wire touches the metallic body, the charge flows to the earth without damaging the appliance and without causing any injury to the humans; this would have otherwise been unavoidable since the human body is a conductor of electricity.
* There is a third category called semiconductors, which offer resistance to the movement of charges which is intermediate between the conductors and insulators.
When we touch a pith ball with an electrified plastic rod, some of the negative charges on the rod are transferred to the pith ball and it also gets charged. Thus the pith ball is charged by contact. It is then repelled by the plastic rod but is attracted by a glass rod which is oppositely charged. However, why a electrified rod attracts light objects, is a question we have still left unanswered. Let us try to understand what could be happening by performing the following experiment.
(i) Bring two metal spheres, A and B, supported on insulating stands, in contact as shown in Fig. 1.4(a).
(ii) Bring a positively charged rod near one of the spheres, say A, taking care that it does not touch the sphere. The free electrons in the spheres are attracted towards the rod. This leaves an excess of positive charge on the rear surface of sphere B. Both kinds of charges are bound in the metal spheres and cannot escape. They, therefore, reside on the surfaces, as shown in Fig. 1.4(b). The left surface of sphere A, has an excess of negative charge and the right surface of sphere B, has an excess of positive charge. However, not all of the electrons in the spheres have accumulated on the left surface of A. As the negative charge starts building up at the left surface of A, other electrons are repelled by these. In a short time, equilibrium is reached under the action of force of attraction of the rod and the force of repulsion due to the accumulated charges. Fig. 1.4(b) shows the equilibrium situation. The process is called induction of charge and happens almost instantly. The accumulated charges remain on the surface, as shown, till the glass rod is held near the sphere. If the rod is removed, the charges are not acted by any outside force and they redistribute to their original neutral state.
(iii) Separate the spheres by a small distance while the glass rod is still held near sphere A, as shown in Fig. 1.4(c). The two spheres are found to be oppositely charged and attract each other.
(iv) Remove the rod. The charges on spheres rearrange themselves as shown in Fig. 1.4(d). Now, separate the spheres quite apart. The charges on them get uniformly distributed over them, as shown in
Fig. 1.4(e).
In this process, the metal spheres will each be equal and oppositely charged. This is charging by induction. The positively charged glass rod does not lose any of its charge, contrary to the process of charging by contact.
When electrified rods are brought near light objects, a similar effect takes place. The rods induce opposite charges on the near surfaces of the objects and similar charges move to the farther side of the object. [This happens even when the light object is not a conductor. The mechanism for how this happens is explained later in Sections 1.10 and 2.10.] The centres of the two types of charges are slightly separated. We know that opposite charges attract while similar charges repel. However, the magnitude of force depends on the distance between the charges and in this case the force of attraction overweighs the force of repulsion. As a result the particles like bits of paper or pith balls, being light, are pulled towards the rods.
Example 1.1 How can you charge a metal sphere positively without touching it?
Solution Figure 1.5(a) shows an uncharged metallic sphere on an insulating metal stand. Bring a negatively charged rod close to the metallic sphere, as shown in Fig. 1.5(b). As the rod is brought close to the sphere, the free electrons in the sphere move away due to repulsion and start piling up at the farther end. The near end becomes positively charged due to deficit of electrons. This process of charge distribution stops when the net force on the free electrons inside the metal is zero. Connect the sphere to the ground by a conducting wire. The electrons will flow to the ground while the positive charges at the near end will remain held there due to the attractive force of the negative charges on the rod, as shown in Fig. 1.5(c). Disconnect the sphere from the ground. The positive charge continues to be held at the near end [Fig. 1.5(d)]. Remove the electrified rod. The positive charge will spread uniformly over the sphere as shown in Fig. 1.5(e).
Figure 1.5
In this experiment, the metal sphere gets charged by the process of induction and the rod does not lose any of its charge.
Similar steps are involved in charging a metal sphere negatively by induction, by bringing a positively charged rod near it. In this case the electrons will flow from the ground to the sphere when the sphere is connected to the ground with a wire. Can you explain why?
We have seen that there are two types of charges, namely positive and negative and their effects tend to cancel each other. Here, we shall now describe some other properties of the electric charge.
If the sizes of charged bodies are very small as compared to the distances between them, we treat them as point charges. All the charge content of the body is assumed to be concentrated at one point in space.
We have not as yet given a quantitative definition of a charge; we shall follow it up in the next section. We shall tentatively assume that this can be done and proceed. If a system contains two point charges q1 and q2, the total charge of the system is obtained simply by adding algebraically q1 and q2 , i.e., charges add up like real numbers or they are scalars like the mass of a body. If a system contains n charges q1, q2, q3, …, qn, then the total charge of the system is q1 + q2 + q3 + … + qn . Charge has magnitude but no direction, similar to mass. However, there is one difference between mass and charge. Mass of a body is always positive whereas a charge can be either positive or negative. Proper signs have to be used while adding the charges in a system. For example, the total charge of a system containing five charges +1, +2, –3, +4 and –5, in some arbitrary unit, is (+1) + (+2) + (–3) + (+4) + (–5) = –1 in the same unit.
We have already hinted to the fact that when bodies are charged by rubbing, there is transfer of electrons from one body to the other; no new charges are either created or destroyed. A picture of particles of electric charge enables us to understand the idea of conservation of charge. When we rub two bodies, what one body gains in charge the other body loses. Within an isolated system consisting of many charged bodies, due to interactions among the bodies, charges may get redistributed but it is found that the total charge of the isolated system is always conserved. Conservation of charge has been established experimentally.
It is not possible to create or destroy net charge carried by any isolated system although the charge carrying particles may be created or destroyed in a process. Sometimes nature creates charged particles: a neutron turns into a proton and an electron. The proton and electron thus created have equal and opposite charges and the total charge is zero before and after the creation.
Experimentally it is established that all free charges are integral multiples of a basic unit of charge denoted by e. Thus charge q on a body is always given by
q = ne
where n is any integer, positive or negative. This basic unit of charge is the charge that an electron or proton carries. By convention, the charge on an electron is taken to be negative; therefore charge on an electron is written as –e and that on a proton as +e.
The fact that electric charge is always an integral multiple of e is termed as quantisation of charge. There are a large number of situations in physics where certain physical quantities are quantised. The quantisation of charge was first suggested by the experimental laws of electrolysis discovered by English experimentalist Faraday. It was experimentally demonstrated by Millikan in 1912.
In the International System (SI) of Units, a unit of charge is called a coulomb and is denoted by the symbol C. A coulomb is defined in terms the unit of the electric current which you are going to learn in a subsequent chapter. In terms of this definition, one coulomb is the charge flowing through a wire in 1 s if the current is 1 A (ampere), (see Chapter 2 of Class XI, Physics Textbook , Part I). In this system, the value of the basic unit of charge is
e = 1.602192 × 10^{–19} C
Thus, there are about 6 × 1018 electrons in a charge of –1C. In electrostatics, charges of this large magnitude are seldom encountered and hence we use smaller units 1 µC (micro coulomb) = 10–6 C or 1 mC (milli coulomb) = 10^{–3} C.
If the protons and electrons are the only basic charges in the universe, all the observable charges have to be integral multiples of e. Thus, if a body contains n1 electrons and n2 protons, the total amount of charge on the body is n2 × e + n1 × (–e) = (n2 – n1) e. Since n1 and n2 are integers, their difference is also an integer. Thus the charge on any body is always an integral multiple of e and can be increased or decreased also in steps of e.
The step size e is, however, very small because at the macroscopic level, we deal with charges of a few µC. At this scale the fact that charge of a body can increase or decrease in units of e is not visible. In this respect, the grainy nature of the charge is lost and it appears to be continuous.
This situation can be compared with the geometrical concepts of points and lines. A dotted line viewed from a distance appears continuous to us but is not continuous in reality. As many points very close to each other normally give an impression of a continuous line, many small charges taken together appear as a continuous charge distribution.
At the macroscopic level, one deals with charges that are enormous compared to the magnitude of charge e. Since e = 1.6 × 10–19 C, a charge of magnitude, say 1 µC, contains something like 1013 times the electronic charge. At this scale, the fact that charge can increase or decrease only in units of e is not very different from saying that charge can take continuous values. Thus, at the macroscopic level, the quantisation of charge has no practical consequence and can be ignored. However, at the microscopic level, where the charges involved are of the order of a few tens or hundreds of e, i.e., they can be counted, they appear in discrete lumps and quantisation of charge cannot be ignored. It is the magnitude of scale involved that is very important.
Example 1.2 If 10^{9} electrons move out of a body to another body every second, how much time is required to get a total charge of 1 C on the other body?
Solution In one second 109 electrons move out of the body. Therefore the charge given out in one second is 1.6 × 10–19 × 109 C = 1.6 × 10–10 C.
The time required to accumulate a charge of 1 C can then be estimated to be 1 C ÷ (1.6 × 10–10 C/s) = 6.25 × 109 s = 6.25 × 109 ÷ (365 × 24 × 3600) years = 198 years. Thus to collect a charge of one coulomb, from a body from which 109 electrons move out every second, we will need approximately 200 years. One coulomb is, therefore, a very large unit for many practical purposes.
It is, however, also important to know what is roughly the number of electrons contained in a piece of one cubic centimetre of a material. A cubic piece of copper of side 1 cm contains about 2.5 × 1024
electrons.
Example 1.3 How much positive and negative charge is there in a cup of water?
Solution Let us assume that the mass of one cup of water is 250 g. The molecular mass of water is 18g. Thus, one mole (= 6.02 × 1023 molecules) of water is 18 g. Therefore the number of molecules in one cup of water is (250/18) × 6.02 × 1023.
Each molecule of water contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, i.e., 10 electrons and 10 protons. Hence the total positive and total negative charge has the same magnitude. It is equal to (250/18) × 6.02 × 1023 × 10 × 1.6 × 10–19 C = 1.34 × 107 C.
Coulomb’s law is a quantitative statement about the force between two point charges. When the linear size of charged bodies are much smaller than the distance separating them, the size may be ignored and the charged bodies are treated as point charges. Coulomb measured the force between two point charges and found that it varied inversely as the square of the distance between the charges and was directly proportional to the product of the magnitude of the two charges and acted along the line joining the two charges. Thus, if two point charges q1, q2 are separated by a distance r in vacuum, the magnitude of the force (F) between them is given by
(1.1)
How did Coulomb arrive at this law from his experiments? Coulomb used a torsion balance* for measuring the force between two charged metallic spheres. When the separation between two spheres is much larger than the radius of each sphere, the charged spheres may be regarded as point charges. However, the charges on the spheres were unknown, to begin with. How then could he discover a relation like Eq. (1.1)? Coulomb thought of the following simple way: Suppose the charge on a metallic sphere is q. If the sphere is put in contact with an identical uncharged sphere, the charge will spread over the two spheres. By symmetry, the charge on each sphere will be q/2*. Repeating this process, we can get charges q/2, q/4, etc. Coulomb varied the distance for a fixed pair of charges and measured the force for different separations. He then varied the charges in pairs, keeping the distance fixed for each pair. Comparing forces for different pairs of charges at different distances, Coulomb arrived at the relation, Eq. (1.1).
* A torsion balance is a sensitive device to measure force. It was also used later by Cavendish to measure the very feeble gravitational force between two objects, to verify Newton’s Law of Gravitation.
Coulomb’s law, a simple mathematical statement, was initially experimentally arrived at in the manner described above. While the original experiments established it at a macroscopic scale, it has also been established down to subatomic level (r ~ 10–10 m).
Coulomb discovered his law without knowing the explicit magnitude of the charge. In fact, it is the other way round: Coulomb’s law can now be employed to furnish a definition for a unit of charge. In the relation, Eq. (1.1), k is so far arbitrary. We can choose any positive value of k. The choice of k determines the size of the unit of charge. In SI units, the value of k is about 9 × 109 . The unit of charge that results from this choice is called a coulomb which we defined earlier in Section 1.4. Putting this value of k in Eq. (1.1), we see that for q1 = q2 = 1 C, r = 1 m
F = 9 × 109 N
Charles Augustin de Coulomb (1736 – 1806) Coulomb, a French physicist, began his career as a military engineer in the West Indies. In 1776, he returned to Paris and retired to a small estate to do his scientific research. He invented a torsion balance to measure the quantity of a force and used it for determination of forces of electric attraction or repulsion between small charged spheres. He thus arrived in 1785 at the inverse square law relation, now known as Coulomb’s law. The law had been anticipated by Priestley and also by Cavendish earlier, though Cavendish never published his results. Coulomb also found the inverse square law of force between unlike and like magnetic poles.
That is, 1 C is the charge that when placed at a distance of 1 m from another charge of the same magnitude in vacuum experiences an electrical force of repulsion of magnitude 9 × 109 N. One coulomb is evidently too big a unit to be used. In practice, in electrostatics, one uses smaller units like 1 mC or 1 µC.
The constant k in Eq. (1.1) is usually put as
k = 1/4πε0 for later convenience, so that Coulomb’s law is written as
(1.2)
ε0 is called the permittivity of free space . The value of ε0 in SI units is
= 8.854 × 10–12 C^{2} N^{–1}m^{–2}
^{ }
* Implicit in this is the assumption of additivity of charges and conservation: two charges (q/2 each) add up to make a total charge q.
Since force is a vector, it is better to write Coulomb’s law in the vector notation. Let the position vectors of charges q1 and q2 be r1 and r2 respectively [see Fig.1.6(a)]. We denote force on q1 due to q2 by F12 and force on q2 due to q1 by F21. The two point charges q1 and q2 have been numbered 1 and 2 for convenience and the vector leading from 1 to 2 is denoted by r21:
r21 = r2 – r1
In the same way, the vector leading from 2 to 1 is denoted by r12:
r12 = r1 – r2 = – r21
The magnitude of the vectors r21 and r12 is denoted by r21 and r12, respectively (r12 = r21). The direction of a vector is specified by a unit vector along the vector. To denote the direction from 1 to 2 (or from 2 to 1), we define the unit vectors:
,
Coulomb’s force law between two point charges q1 and q2 located at r1 and r2 is then expressed as
(1.3)
Some remarks on Eq. (1.3) are relevant:
Figure 1.6 (a) Geometry and (b) Forces between charges.
• Equation (1.3) is valid for any sign of q1 and q2 whether positive or negative. If q1 and q2 are of the same sign (either both positive or both negative), F21 is along 21, which denotes repulsion, as it should be for like charges. If q1 and q2 are of opposite signs, F21 is along –21(=12), which denotes attraction, as expected for unlike charges. Thus, we do not have to write separate equations for the cases of like and unlike charges. Equation (1.3) takes care of both cases correctly [Fig. 1.6(b)].
• The force F_{12} on charge q1 due to charge q2, is obtained from Eq. (1.3), by simply interchanging 1 and 2, i.e.,
Thus, Coulomb’s law agrees with the Newton’s third law.
• Coulomb’s law [Eq. (1.3)] gives the force between two charges q1 and q2 in vacuum. If the charges are placed in matter or the intervening space has matter, the situation gets complicated due to the presence of charged constituents of matter. We shall consider electrostatics in matter in the next chapter.
Example 1.4 Coulomb’s law for electrostatic force between two point charges and Newton’s law for gravitational force between two stationary point masses, both have inverse-square dependence on the distance between the charges and masses respectively.
(a) Compare the strength of these forces by determining the ratio of their magnitudes (i) for an electron and a proton and (ii) for two protons. (b) Estimate the accelerations of electron and proton due to the electrical force of their mutual attraction when they are
1 Å (= 10-10 m) apart? (mp = 1.67 × 10–27 kg, me = 9.11 × 10–31 kg)
Solution
(a) (i) The electric force between an electron and a proton at a distance r apart is:
where the negative sign indicates that the force is attractive. The corresponding gravitational force (always attractive) is:
where mp and me are the masses of a proton and an electron respectively.
(ii) On similar lines, the ratio of the magnitudes of electric force to the gravitational force between two protons at a distance r apart is:
1.3 × 1036
However, it may be mentioned here that the signs of the two forces are different. For two protons, the gravitational force is attractive in nature and the Coulomb force is repulsive. The actual values of these forces between two protons inside a nucleus (distance between two protons is ~ 10-15 m inside a nucleus) are Fe ~ 230 N, whereas, FG ~ 1.9 × 10–34 N.
The (dimensionless) ratio of the two forces shows that electrical forces are enormously stronger than the gravitational forces.
(b) The electric force F exerted by a proton on an electron is same in magnitude to the force exerted by an electron on a proton; however, the masses of an electron and a proton are different. Thus, the magnitude of force is
|F| == 8.987 × 10^{9} Nm^{2/C}^{2} × (1.6 ×10^{–19}^{C})^{2} / (10^{–10}m)^{2}
= 2.3 × 10^{–8} N
Using Newton’s second law of motion, F = ma, the acceleration that an electron will undergo is
a = 2.3×10^{–8} N / 9.11 ×10^{–31 }^{kg }= 2.5 × 10^{22 m/s2}
Comparing this with the value of acceleration due to gravity, we can conclude that the effect of gravitational field is negligible on the motion of electron and it undergoes very large accelerations under the action of Coulomb force due to a proton.
The value for acceleration of the proton is
2.3 × 10^{–8} N / 1.67 × 10^{–27} kg = 1.4 × 10^{19} ^{m/s2}
Example 1.5 A charged metallic sphere A is suspended by a nylon thread. Another charged metallic sphere B held by an insulating handle is brought close to A such that the distance between their centres is 10 cm, as shown in Fig. 1.7(a). The resulting repulsion of A is noted (for example, by shining a beam of light and measuring the deflection of its shadow on a screen). Spheres A and B are touched by uncharged spheres C and D respectively, as shown in Fig. 1.7(b). C and D are then removed and B is brought closer to A to a distance of 5.0 cm between their centres, as shown in Fig. 1.7(c).What is the expected repulsion of A on the basis of Coulomb’s law? Spheres A and C and spheres B and D have identical sizes. Ignore the sizes of A and B in comparison to the separation between their centres. ^{}
Figure 1.7
Solution Let the original charge on sphere A be q and that on B be q′. At a distance r between their centres, the magnitude of the electrostatic force on each is given by
neglecting the sizes of spheres A and B in comparison to r. When an identical but uncharged sphere C touches A, the charges redistribute on A and C and, by symmetry, each sphere carries a charge q/2. Similarly, after D touches B, the redistributed charge on each is
q′/2. Now, if the separation between A and B is halved, the magnitude of the electrostatic force on each is
Thus the electrostatic force on A, due to B, remains unaltered.
The mutual electric force between two charges is given by Coulomb’s law. How to calculate the force on a charge where there are not one but several charges around? Consider a system of nstationary charges q1, q2, q3, ..., qn in vacuum. What is the force on q1 due to q2, q3, ..., qn? Coulomb’s law is not enough to answer this question. Recall that forces of mechanical origin add according to the parallelogram law of addition. Is the same true for forces of electrostatic origin?
Experimentally, it is verified that force on any charge due to a number of other charges is the vector sum of all the forces on that charge due to the other charges, taken one at a time. The individual forces are unaffected due to the presence of other charges. This is termed as the principle of superposition.
To better understand the concept, consider a system of three charges q1, q2 and q3, as shown in Fig. 1.8(a). The force on one charge, say q1, due to two other charges q2, q3 can therefore be obtained by performing a vector addition of the forces due to each one of these charges. Thus, if the force on q1 due to q2 is denoted by F12, F12 is given by Eq. (1.3) even though other charges are present. Thus, F12
In the same way, the force on q1 due to q3, denoted by F13, is given by
which again is the Coulomb force on q1 due to q3, even though other charge q2 is present.
Thus the total force F1 on q1 due to the two charges q2 and q3 is given as
(1.4)
The above calculation of force can be generalised to a system of charges more than three, as shown in Fig. 1.8(b).
The principle of superposition says that in a system of charges q1, q2, ..., qn, the force on q1 due to q2 is the same as given by Coulomb’s law, i.e., it is unaffected by the presence of the other charges q3, q4, ..., qn. The total force F1 on the charge q1, due to all other charges, is then given by the vector sum of the forces F12, F13, ..., F1n:
i.e.,
(1.5)
The vector sum is obtained as usual by the parallelogram law of addition of vectors. All of electrostatics is basically a consequence of Coulomb’s law and the superposition principle.
Example 1.6 Consider three charges q1, q2, q3 each equal to q at the vertices of an equilateral triangle of side l. What is the force on a charge Q (with the same sign as q) placed at the centroid of the triangle, as shown in Fig. 1.9?
Figure 1.9
Solution In the given equilateral triangle ABC of sides of length l, if we draw a perpendicular AD to the side BC,
AD = AC cos 30º = () l and the distance AO of the centroid O from A is (2/3) AD = () l. By symmatry AO = BO = CO.
Thus,
Force F1 on Q due to charge q at A =along AO
Force F2 on Q due to charge q at B =along BO
Force F3 on Q due to charge q at C =along CO
The resultant of forces F2 and F3 isalong OA, by the parallelogram law. Therefore, the total force on Q =
= 0, whereis the unit vector along OA.
It is clear also by symmetry that the three forces will sum to zero. Suppose that the resultant force was non-zero but in some direction. Consider what would happen if the system was rotated through 60° about O.
Example 1.7 Consider the charges q, q, and –q placed at the vertices of an equilateral triangle, as shown in Fig. 1.10. What is the force on each charge?
Figure 1.10
Solution The forces acting on charge q at A due to charges q at B and –q at C are F12 along BA and F13 along AC respectively, as shown in Fig. 1.10. By the parallelogram law, the total force F1 on the charge q at A is given by
F1 = Fwhereis a unit vector along BC.
The force of attraction or repulsion for each pair of charges has the same magnitude
The total force F2 on charge q at B is thus F2 = F2, where2 is a unit vector along AC.
Similarly the total force on charge –q at C is F3 =F, whereis the unit vector along the direction bisecting the ∠BCA.
It is interesting to see that the sum of the forces on the three charges is zero, i.e.,
F1 + F2 + F3 = 0
The result is not at all surprising. It follows straight from the fact that Coulomb’s law is consistent with Newton’s third law. The proof is left to you as an exercise.
Let us consider a point charge Q placed in vacuum, at the origin O. If we place another point charge q at a point P, where OP = r, then the charge Q will exert a force on q as per Coulomb’s law. We may ask the question: If charge q is removed, then what is left in the surrounding? Is there nothing? If there is nothing at the point P, then how does a force act when we place the charge q at P. In order to answer such questions, the early scientists introduced the concept of field. According to this, we say that the charge Q produces an electric field everywhere in the surrounding. When another charge q is brought at some point P, the field there acts on it and produces a force. The electric field produced by the charge Q at a point r is given as
(1.6)
wherer/r, is a unit vector from the origin to the point r. Thus, Eq.(1.6) specifies the value of the electric field for each value of the position vector r. The word “field” signifies how some distributed quantity (which could be a scalar or a vector) varies with position. The effect of the charge has been incorporated in the existence of the electric field. We obtain the force F exerted by a charge Q on a charge q, as
(1.7)
Note that the charge q also exerts an equal and opposite force on the charge Q. The electrostatic force between the charges Q and q can be looked upon as an interaction between charge q and the electric field of Q and vice versa. If we denote the position of charge q by the vector r, it experiences a force F equal to the charge q multiplied by the electric field E at the location of q. Thus,
F(r) = q E(r) (1.8)
Equation (1.8) defines the SI unit of electric field as N/C*.
Some important remarks may be made here:
(i) From Eq. (1.8), we can infer that if q is unity, the electric field due to a charge Q is numerically equal to the force exerted by it. Thus, the electric field due to a charge Q at a point in space may be defined as the force that a unit positive charge would experience if placed at that point. The charge Q, which is producing the electric field, is called a source charge and the charge q, which tests the effect of a source charge, is called a test charge. Note that the source charge Q must remain at its original location. However, if a charge q is brought at any point around Q, Q itself is bound to experience an electrical force due to q and will tend to move. A way out of this difficulty is to make q negligibly small. The force F is then negligibly small but the ratio F/q is finite and defines the electric field:
(1.9)
Figure 1.11 Electric field (a) due to a charge Q, (b) due to a charge –Q.
A practical way to get around the problem (of keeping Q undisturbed in the presence of q) is to hold Q to its location by unspecified forces! This may look strange but actually this is what happens in practice. When we are considering the electric force on a test charge q due to a charged planar sheet (Section 1.15), the charges on the sheet are held to their locations by the forces due to the unspecified charged constituents inside the sheet.
(ii) Note that the electric field E due to Q, though defined operationally in terms of some test charge q, is independent of q. This is because F is proportional to q, so the ratio F/q does not depend on q. The force F on the charge q due to the charge Q depends on the particular location of charge q which may take any value in the space around the charge Q. Thus, the electric field E due to Q is also dependent on the space coordinate r. For different positions of the charge q all over the space, we get different values of electric field E. The field exists at every point in three-dimensional space.
(iii) For a positive charge, the electric field will be directed radially outwards from the charge. On the other hand, if the source charge is negative, the electric field vector, at each point, points radially inwards.
(iv) Since the magnitude of the force F on charge q due to charge Q depends only on the distance r of the charge q from charge Q, the magnitude of the electric field E will also depend only on the distance r. Thus at equal distances from the charge Q, the magnitude of its electric field E is same. The magnitude of electric field E due to a point charge is thus same on a sphere with the point charge at its centre; in other words, it has a spherical symmetry.
Consider a system of charges q1, q2, ..., qn with position vectors r1, r2, ..., rn relative to some origin O. Like the electric field at a point in space due to a single charge, electric field at a point in space due to the system of charges is defined to be the force experienced by a unit test charge placed at that point, without disturbing the original positions of charges q1, q2, ..., qn. We can use Coulomb’s law and the superposition principle to determine this field at a point P denoted by position vector r.
Electric field E1 at r due to q1 at r1 is given by
E1 =
whereis a unit vector in the direction from q1 to P, and r1P is the distance between q1 and P.
In the same manner, electric field E2 at r due to q_{2}_{ }at r_{2}_{ }is E_{2} =
whereis a unit vector in the direction from q2 to P and r2P is the distance between q2 and P. Similar expressions hold good for fields E3, E4, ..., En due to charges q3, q4, ..., qn.
By the superposition principle, the electric field E at r due to the system of charges is (as shown in Fig. 1.12)
Figure 1.12 Electric field at a point due to a system of charges is the vector sum of the electric fields at the point due to individual charges.
E(r) = E1 (r) + E2 (r) + … + En(r)
=
E(r)(1.10)
E is a vector quantity that varies from one point to another point in space and is determined from the positions of the source charges.
You may wonder why the notion of electric field has been introduced here at all. After all, for any system of charges, the measurable quantity is the force on a charge which can be directly determined using Coulomb’s law and the superposition principle [Eq. (1.5)]. Why then introduce this intermediate quantity called the electric field?
For electrostatics, the concept of electric field is convenient, but not really necessary. Electric field is an elegant way of characterising the electrical environment of a system of charges. Electric field at a point in the space around a system of charges tells you the force a unit positive test charge would experience if placed at that point (without disturbing the system). Electric field is a characteristic of the system of charges and is independent of the test charge that you place at a point to determine the field. The term field in physics generally refers to a quantity that is defined at every point in space and may vary from point to point. Electric field is a vector field, since force is a vector quantity.
The true physical significance of the concept of electric field, however, emerges only when we go beyond electrostatics and deal with time-dependent electromagnetic phenomena. Suppose we consider the force between two distant charges q1, q2 in accelerated motion. Now the greatest speed with which a signal or information can go from one point to another is c, the speed of light. Thus, the effect of any motion of q1 on q2 cannot arise instantaneously. There will be some time delay between the effect (force on q2) and the cause (motion of q1). It is precisely here that the notion of electric field (strictly, electromagnetic field) is natural and very useful. The field picture is this: the accelerated motion of charge q1 produces electromagnetic waves, which then propagate with the speed c, reach q2 and cause a force on q2. The notion of field elegantly accounts for the time delay. Thus, even though electric and magnetic fields can be detected only by their effects (forces) on charges, they are regarded as physical entities, not merely mathematical constructs. They have an independent dynamics of their own, i.e., they evolve according to laws of their own. They can also transport energy. Thus, a source of time-dependent electromagnetic fields, turned on for a short interval of time and then switched off, leaves behind propagating electromagnetic fields transporting energy. The concept of field was first introduced by Faraday and is now among the central concepts in physics.
Example 1.8 An electron falls through a distance of 1.5 cm in a uniform electric field of magnitude 2.0 × 104 N C–1 [Fig. 1.13(a)]. The direction of the field is reversed keeping its magnitude unchanged and a proton falls through the same distance [Fig. 1.13(b)]. Compute the time of fall in each case. Contrast the situation with that of ‘free fall under gravity’.
Solution In Fig. 1.13(a) the field is upward, so the negatively charged electron experiences a downward force of magnitude eE where E is the magnitude of the electric field. The acceleration of the electron is
ae = eE/me
where me is the mass of the electron.
Starting from rest, the time required by the electron to fall through a distance h is given by
For e = 1.6 × 10^{–19}^{C,} me = 9.11 × 10^{–31 kg,}
E = 2.0 × 104 N C^{–1}, h = 1.5 × 10^{–2} m,
te = 2.9 × 10^{–9}s
In Fig. 1.13 (b), the field is downward, and the positively charged proton experiences a downward force of magnitude eE. The acceleration of the proton is
ap = eE/m_{p}
where mp is the mass of the proton; mp = 1.67 × 10–27 kg. The time of fall for the proton is
Thus, the heavier particle (proton) takes a greater time to fall through the same distance. This is in basic contrast to the situation of ‘free fall under gravity’ where the time of fall is independent of the mass of the body. Note that in this example we have ignored the acceleration due to gravity in calculating the time of fall. To see if this is justified, let us calculate the acceleration of the proton in the given electric field:
which is enormous compared to the value of g (9.8 m s–2), the acceleration due to gravity. The acceleration of the electron is even greater. Thus, the effect of acceleration due to gravity can be ignored in this example.
Example 1.9 Two point charges q1 and q2, of magnitude +10–8 C and –10–8 C, respectively, are placed 0.1 m apart. Calculate the electric fields at points A, B and C shown in Fig. 1.14.
Figure 1.14
Solution The electric field vector E1A at A due to the positive charge q1 points towards the right and has a magnitude
= 3.6 × 104 N C–1
The electric field vector E2A at A due to the negative charge q2 points towards the right and has the same magnitude. Hence the magnitude of the total electric field EA at A is
EA = E1A + E2A = 7.2 × 104 N C–1
EA is directed toward the right.
The electric field vector E1B at B due to the positive charge q1 points towards the left and has a magnitude
= 3.6 × 104 N C–1
The electric field vector E2B at B due to the negative charge q2 points towards the right and has a magnitude
= 4 × 103 N C–1
The magnitude of the total electric field at B is
E_{B} = E_{1B}_{ }– E_{2B} = 3.2 × 10^{4} N C^{–1}
E_{B} is directed towards the left.
The magnitude of each electric field vector at point C, due to charge q1 and q2 is
= 9 × 103 N C–1
The directions in which these two vectors point are indicated in
Fig. 1.14. The resultant of these two vectors is
= 9 × 103 N C–1
E_{C}_{ }points towards the right.
We have studied electric field in the last section. It is a vector quantity and can be represented as we represent vectors. Let us try to represent E due to a point charge pictorially. Let the point charge be placed at the origin. Draw vectors pointing along the direction of the electric field with their lengths proportional to the strength of the field at each point. Since the magnitude of electric field at a point decreases inversely as the square of the distance of that point from the charge, the vector gets shorter as one goes away from the origin, always pointing radially outward. Figure 1.15 shows such a picture. In this figure, each arrow indicates the electric field, i.e., the force acting on a unit positive charge, placed at the tail of that arrow. Connect the arrows pointing in one direction and the resulting figure represents a field line. We thus get many field lines, all pointing outwards from the point charge. Have we lost the information about the strength or magnitude of the field now, because it was contained in the length of the arrow? No. Now the magnitude of the field is represented by the density of field lines. E is strong near the charge, so the density of field lines is more near the charge and the lines are closer. Away from the charge, the field gets weaker and the density of field lines is less, resulting in well-separated lines.
Another person may draw more lines. But the number of lines is not important. In fact, an infinite number of lines can be drawn in any region. It is the relative density of lines in different regions which is important.
We draw the figure on the plane of paper, i.e., in two-dimensions but we live in three-dimensions. So if one wishes to estimate the density of field lines, one has to consider the number of lines per unit cross-sectional area, perpendicular to the lines. Since the electric field decreases as the square of the distance from a point charge and the area enclosing the charge increases as the square of the distance, the number of field lines crossing the enclosing area remains constant, whatever may be the distance of the area from the charge.
We started by saying that the field lines carry information about the direction of electric field at different points in space. Having drawn a certain set of field lines, the relative density (i.e., closeness) of the field lines at different points indicates the relative strength of electric field at those points. The field lines crowd where the field is strong and are spaced apart where it is weak. Figure 1.16 shows a set of field lines. We can imagine two equal and small elements of area placed at points R and S normal to the field lines there. The number of field lines in our picture cutting the area elements is proportional to the magnitude of field at these points. The picture shows that the field at R is stronger than at S.
Figure 1.15 Field of a point charge.
To understand the dependence of the field lines on the area, or rather the solid angle subtended by an area element, let us try to relate the area with the solid angle, a generalisation of angle to three dimensions. Recall how a (plane) angle is defined in two-dimensions. Let a small transverse line element ∆l be placed at a distance r from a point O. Then the angle subtended by ∆l at O can be approximated as ∆θ = ∆l/r. Likewise, in three-dimensions the solid angle* subtended by a small perpendicular plane area ∆S, at a distance r, can be written as
∆Ω = ∆S/r2. We know that in a given solid angle the number of radial field lines is the same. In Fig. 1.16, for two points P1 and P2 at distances r1 and r2 from the charge, the element of area subtending the solid angle ∆Ω is∆Ω at P1 and an element of area
Figure 1.16 Dependence of electric field strength on the distance and its relation to the number of field lines.
∆Ω at P2, respectively. The number of lines (say n) cutting these area elements are the same. The number of field lines, cutting unit area element is therefore n/(∆Ω) at P1 and n/(∆Ω) at P2, respectively. Since n and ∆Ω are common, the strength of the field clearly has a 1/r2dependence.
The picture of field lines was invented by Faraday to develop an intuitive non-mathematical way of visualising electric fields around charged configurations. Faraday called them lines of force. This term is somewhat misleading, especially in case of magnetic fields. The more appropriate term is field lines (electric or magnetic) that we have adopted in this book.
Electric field lines are thus a way of pictorially mapping the electric field around a configuration of charges. An electric field line is, in general, a curve drawn in such a way that the tangent to it at each point is in the direction of the net field at that point. An arrow on the curve is obviously necessary to specify the direction of electric field from the two possible directions indicated by a tangent to the curve. A field line is a space curve, i.e., a curve in three dimensions.
Figure 1.17 Field lines due to some simple charge configurations.
Figure 1.17 shows the field lines around some simple charge configurations. As mentioned earlier, the field lines are in 3-dimensional space, though the figure shows them only in a plane. The field lines of a single positive charge are radially outward while those of a single negative charge are radially inward. The field lines around a system of two positive charges (q, q) give a vivid pictorial description of their mutual repulsion, while those around the configuration of two equal and opposite charges (q, –q), a dipole, show clearly the mutual attraction between the charges. The field lines follow some important general properties:
(i) Field lines start from positive charges and end at negative charges. If there is a single charge, they may start or end at infinity.
(ii) In a charge-free region, electric field lines can be taken to be continuous curves without any breaks.
(iii) Two field lines can never cross each other. (If they did, the field at the point of intersection will not have a unique direction, which is absurd.)
(iv) Electrostatic field lines do not form any closed loops. This follows from the conservative nature of electric field (Chapter 2).
Consider flow of a liquid with velocity v, through a small flat surface dS, in a direction normal to the surface. The rate of flow of liquid is given by the volume crossing the area per unit time v dS and represents the flux of liquid flowing across the plane. If the normal to the surface is not parallel to the direction of flow of liquid, i.e., to v, but makes an angle θ with it, the projected area in a plane perpendicular to v is v dS cos θ. Therefore, the flux going out of the surface dS is v.dS. For the case of the electric field, we define an analogous quantity and call it electric flux. We should, however, note that there is no flow of a physically observable quantity unlike the case of liquid flow.
In the picture of electric field lines described above, we saw that the number of field lines crossing a unit area, placed normal to the field at a point is a measure of the strength of electric field at that point. This means that if we place a small planar element of area ∆S normal to E at a point, the number of field lines crossing it is proportional* to E ∆S. Now suppose we tilt the area element by angle θ. Clearly, the number of field lines crossing the area element will be smaller. The projection of the area element normal to E is ∆S cosθ. Thus, the number of field lines crossing ∆S is proportional to E ∆S cosθ. When θ = 90°, field lines will be parallel to ∆Sand will not cross it at all (Fig. 1.18).
The orientation of area element and not merely its magnitude is important in many contexts. For example, in a stream, the amount of water flowing through a ring will naturally depend on how you hold the ring. If you hold it normal to the flow, maximum water will flow through it than if you hold it with some other orientation. This shows that an area element should be treated as a vector. It has a magnitude and also a direction. How to specify the direction of a planar area? Clearly, the normal to the plane specifies the orientation of the plane. Thus the direction of a planar area vector is along its normal.
How to associate a vector to the area of a curved surface? We imagine dividing the surface into a large number of very small area elements. Each small area element may be treated as planar and a vector associated with it, as explained before.
Notice one ambiguity here. The direction of an area element is along its normal. But a normal can point in two directions. Which direction do we choose as the direction of the vector associated with the area element? This problem is resolved by some convention appropriate to the given context. For the case of a closed surface, this convention is very simple. The vector associated with every area element of a closed surface is taken to be in the direction of the outward normal. This is the convention used in Fig. 1.19. Thus, the area element vector ∆S at a point on a closed surface equals ∆Sn where ∆S is the magnitude of the area element and n is a unit vector in the direction of outward normal at that point.
We now come to the definition of electric flux. Electric flux ∆φ through an area element ∆S is defined by
∆φ = E.∆S = E ∆S cosθ (1.11)
which, as seen before, is proportional to the number of field lines cutting the area element. The angle θ here is the angle between E and ∆S. For a closed surface, with the convention stated already, θ is the angle between E and the outward normal to the area element. Notice we could look at the expression E ∆S cosθ in two ways: E (∆S cosθ ) i.e., E times the projection of area normal to E, or E⊥ ∆S, i.e., component of E along the normal to the area element times the magnitude of the area element. The unit of electric flux is N C–1 m2.
The basic definition of electric flux given by Eq. (1.11) can be used, in principle, to calculate the total flux through any given surface. All we have to do is to divide the surface into small area elements, calculate the flux at each element and add them up. Thus, the total flux φ through a surface S is
φ ~ Σ E.∆S (1.12)
The approximation sign is put because the electric field E is taken to be constant over the small area element. This is mathematically exact only when you take the limit ∆S → 0 and the sum in Eq. (1.12) is written as an integral.
Figure 1.19 Convention for defining normal
An electric dipole is a pair of equal and opposite point charges q and –q, separated by a distance 2a. The line connecting the two charges defines a direction in space. By convention, the direction from –q to q is said to be the direction of the dipole. The mid-point of locations of –q and q is called the centre of the dipole.
The total charge of the electric dipole is obviously zero. This does not mean that the field of the electric dipole is zero. Since the charge q and –q are separated by some distance, the electric fields due to them, when added, do not exactly cancel out. However, at distances much larger than the separation of the two charges forming a dipole (r >> 2a), the fields due to q and –q nearly cancel out. The electric field due to a dipole therefore falls off, at large distance, faster than like 1/r2 (the dependence on r of the field due to a single charge q). These qualitative ideas are borne out by the explicit calculation as follows:
The electric field of the pair of charges (–q and q) at any point in space can be found out from Coulomb’s law and the superposition principle. The results are simple for the following two cases: (i) when the point is on the dipole axis, and (ii) when it is in the equatorial plane of the dipole, i.e., on a plane perpendicular to the dipole axis through its centre. The electric field at any general point P is obtained by adding the electric fields E–q due to the charge –q and E+qdue to the charge q, by the parallelogram law of vectors.
Let the point P be at distance r from the centre of the dipole on the side of the charge q, as shown in Fig. 1.20(a). Then
[1.13(a)]
whereis the unit vector along the dipole axis (from –q to q). Also
[1.13(b)] The total field at P is
(1.14) For r >> a
(r >> a) (1.15)
The magnitudes of the electric fields due to the two charges +q and –q are given by
[1.16(a)]
[1.16(b)]
and are equal.
The directions of E+q and E–q are as shown in
Fig. 1.20(b). Clearly, the components normal to the dipole axis cancel away. The components along the dipole axis add up. The total electric field is opposite to. We have
E = – (E +q + E –q) cosθ
(1.17)
At large distances (r >> a), this reduces to
(1.18)
From Eqs. (1.15) and (1.18), it is clear that the dipole field at large distances does not involveq and a separately; it depends on the product qa. This suggests the definition of dipole moment. The dipole moment vector p of an electric dipole is defined by
p = q × 2a(1.19)
that is, it is a vector whose magnitude is charge q times the separation 2a (between the pair of charges q, –q) and the direction is along the line from –q to q. In terms of p, the electric field of a dipole at large distances takes simple forms:
At a point on the dipole axis
(r >> a) (1.20)
At a point on the equatorial plane
(r >> a) (1.21)
Notice the important point that the dipole field at large distances falls off not as 1/r2 but as1/r3. Further, the magnitude and the direction of the dipole field depends not only on the distance rbut also on the angle between the position vector r and the dipole moment p.
We can think of the limit when the dipole size 2