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Another Approach to the Mean Value Theorem (Griffiths Section 3.1.


(Revised 3 Feb. 2004)

The Mean Value Theorem of electrostatics states: In a charge-free region (i.e. where Laplaces equation is valid), the value of the potential V at a point r is equal to the average value of the potential over any spherical surface centered on r, i.e. . Proof: Consider a spherical surface of radius R , and a point charge q on the z axis at z>R. (If z<R, then the sphere is not in a charge-free region, as required by the theorem. We will consider this case later.) The appropriate quantities are and




Rather than solve this integral directly, consider a different problem: a spherical shell of radius R which has a uniform surface charge density . The potential at a point P outside this sphere, located at a distance z>R from the center is given by . (2)

But we know (from the shell theorem) that the potential at a distance z>R from the center of a uniformly charged spherical shell is . Equating this expression to (2), we see that . This is exactly the same surface integral that appears in (1). Substituting (3) in (1), . Using superposition to add all charges outside the sphere, we have proved the theorem. If one considers a sphere of radius R with charges inside, then the sphere is not contained in the necessary charge-free region, and the theorem must be modified (Problem 3.1). By the same method as above (comparing with the expression for the potential due to a spherical shell of charge), it is easy to show that the average potential on a sphere of radius R due to a point charge q located anywhere inside the sphere is , independent of the the position of the charge, leading to the result of Problem 3.1: (5) (4) (3)

where Vcenter is due to the charges outside the sphere.