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CHAPTER 3

\u2022THE ELECTRIC POTENTIAL

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1. Introduction

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2. Equi-potential surfaces

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3. Calculating the Electric Potential

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Example problem 3.1 Potential difference between two points

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Example: Problem 3.2 Potential due to a Point Charge

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Example: Problem 3.3 Potential due to a Point Charge

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Example: Problem 3.3

Potential due to a Sphere of charge

4. Electric Potential due to a system of point charges

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Example: Problem 4.1

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5. Electric Potential due to continuous distribution of charges

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Example: Problem 5.1 Electric potential due to a line of charge

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Example: Problem 5.2 Electric potential due to a ring of charge

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Example: Problem 5.3 Electric potential due to a disk of charge

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6. The Gradient of the Electric Potential

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Example: Problem 5.1

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Example: Problem 5.2

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7. The Potential and Field of a Dipole

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8. Energy of a system of charges

THE ELECTRIC POTENTIAL

1. Introduction

The electric force is a conservative force. Whenever a system of particles interacts with each other by means of electric force, that is conservative in nature, we can assign potential energy to the system. (A force is conservative when the work it does on a particle depends only on the initial and final position of the particle, and not on the path followed). The introduction of the potential energy is useful since it allows us to apply conservation of mechanical energy that simplifies the solution of a large number of problems.

The potential energy U associated with a conservative force F is defined in the following manner. The change in potential energy of a particle which moves from position i to f in a force fieldF is given by

l

d

F

W

U

U

f

i

if

i

f

\u2022

\u2212

=

\u2212

=

\u2212

\u222b

\u2026\u2026.. \u2026\u2026. (1)

where Wif is the work done by the force during the move from reference positioni tof . The path integral is done along any convenient path connectingi andf. Since the force F is conservative, the integral in eq.(1) will not depend on the path chosen. If the work Wif is positive (force and displacement pointing in the same direction) the potential energy atf will be smaller than the potential energy ati. If energy is conserved, a decrease in the potential energy will result in an increase of the kinetic energy. If the work W is negative (force and displacement pointing in opposite directions) the potential energy atf will be larger than the potential energy ati. If energy is conserved, an increase in the potential energy will result in an decrease of the kinetic energy.

In electrostatic problems the potential energy for a charged particle is determined at a point of an electric field. Here the reference pointi is usually chosen at an infinite distance, and the potential energy at this reference point is taken to be equal to zero. With Ui = 0 the

potential energy at the point f is:

\u222b\u221e

\u221e

\u2022

\u2212

=

\u2212

=

f

f

l

d

F

W

U

\u2026\u2026 \u2026\u2026.

\u2026\u2026 (2)

The potential energy of the particle at positionf is equal to the negative of the work done

by the force the to bring it from infinity.

To describe the potential energy associated with a charge distribution the concept of the

electric potential (V) is introduced.

The electric potential V at a given position is defined as the potential energy of a test

particle divided by the charge q of this object:

\u222b

\u221e\u2022

\u2212

=

=

f

f

f

l

d

F

q

q

U

V

1

\u2026\u2026.

\u2026\u2026.. \u2026\u2026 (3)

In the above calculation we have assumed that the reference pointi is at infinity, and that the electric potential at that point is equal to 0. Since the force per unit charge(F/q) is the electric field (see Chapter 1), eq. (3) can be rewritten as

\u222b

\u221e\u2022

\u2212

=

f

f

l

d

E

V

\u2026\u2026. \u2026\u2026..

\u2026\u2026. (4)

i.e. the electric potential at a point of electric field is equal to the negative of the work done by the electric field while bringing a unit positive test charge from infinity to that point.

The unit of electric potential is thevolt (V), and 1 V = 1 J/C = 1 Nm/C. Equation (4)

shows that as the unit of the electric field we can also use V/m.

The potential difference between two point i and f in principal can be written as

........

\u222b

\u221e

\u2022

\u2212

=

\u2212

=

\u2212

f

if

i

f

l

d

E

q

W

V

V

\u2026\u2026

\u2026\u2026(5)

Electron volt unit of energy

A common used unit for the energy of a particle is the electron-volt (eV) which is defined as the change in kinetic energy of an electron that travels over a potential difference of 1 V. The electron-volt can be related to the Joule via eq.(3). Equation (3) shows that the change in energy of an electron when it crosses over a 1 V potential difference is equal to 1.6. 10-19 J and we thus conclude that 1 eV = 1.6 x10-19 J

2. Equi-potential surfaces

Equipotential surfaces are defined as surfaces on which each point has the same electric potential. The component of the electric field parallel to this surface must be zero since the change in the potential between all points on this surface is equal to zero. This implies that the direction of the electric field is perpendicular to the equipotential surfaces.

Figure below shows a family of equipotential surfaces associated with an electric

field due to some charge distribution. The work done by the electric field on a test charge q as it moves from point I to point II is zero as the end points are situated on the same equipotential surface. Again the work done by the electric field on the test charge as it moves from point III to point IV is also zero because of the same reason as stated above. However the work done by electric field to transfer a test charge from point VII to point VIII is equal to the work done by electric field to transfer the charge from V to VI as the end points of

these two paths are situated on the same set of equipotential surfaces.

In the following figures the electric fields are represented by solid lines where as

the corresponding equi-potential surfaces are represented by dotted lines.

Field lines

Equi-potential surfaces

I

II

III

IV

V

VII

VI

VIII

Fig 2a : Equi-potential

surfaces in uniform field

Fig 2b : Equi-potential

surfaces in a field of point

c h a rg e

3. Calculating the Electric Potential

Example problem 3.1 Potential difference between two points

Figure below shows two points i and f in an electric field E. the points lie on the same field line and are separated by d. calculate the potential difference Vf \u2013 Vi (a) by moving a test charge along the path parallel to the field direction. (b) by moving a test charge along the path shown in figure (b)

Figure (3.1a)

Figure (3.1b)

(a) For the path shown in figure (a)

E. dl = E dl cos 00 = E dl

By definition potential difference between

I and f is

Vf \u2013Vi =

Ed

dl

E

dl

E

l

d

E

fi

fi

fi

\u2212

=

\u2212

=

\u2212

=

\u2022

\u2212

\u222b

\u222b

\u222b

(b) For path shown in figre b the charge is

farst moved along ic and then along cf path.

Then the integral\u222bfi

l

d

E.is divided into two

part i.e.

\u222b

\u222b

\u222b

\u2022

+

\u2022

=

\u2022

f

c

ci

fi

l

d

E

l

d

E

l

d

E

For path \u2018if\u2019 E. dl = E dl cos 900 = 0

and for path \u2018fc\u2019 E. dl = E dl cos 450 = E dl/\u221a2

then the path integral is equal to

d

E

dl

E

l

d

E

f

c

f

c

2

2

2

=

=

\u2022

\u222b

\u222b

=Ed

Hence Vf \u2013 Vi = - Ed

That is, the work required to transfer a charge from one point to another does not

depend on the path followed.

Example problem 3.2 Potential due to a point charge (q)

A charge q0 is moved fromi tof in the vicinity of charge q (see Figure 3.2) The electric potential atf can be determined using eq. (4) and evaluating the integral along the path shown in Figure 3.1. Changing the variable froml to r\u2032 equation (4) can therefore be rewritten as

\u222b

\u221e

\u2032

\u2212

=

r

r

r

d

E

V

\u2026\u2026..

\u2026\u2026..

\u2026\u2026\u2026. (6)

Here the initial point has been taken at infinity (\u221e) where potential is considered to be zero.

The magnitude of electric field at the site of the test charge is

E=

2

4

1

rq

o

\u2032

\u03c0\u03b5

Substituting this value in the previous equation we get

Vr=\u222b

\u221e

\u2032

\u2032

\u2212

r

o

r

d

rq2

4

1

\u03c0\u03b5

=

\u222b

\u221e

\u2212

r

o

rdr

q

2

4\u03c0\u03b5

i

d

dl

f

i

c

dl450

d

f

i qo

r\u221e

f

r

q

F ig u r e 3 .2

:

P a th fo llo w e d b y c h a rg e qo

b e tw e e n i

Filters