Purpose
This experiment is designed to:

To verify Coulomb’s Law 

To measure 
Theory
July 2, 2012
Any two charged objects will create a force on one another; this force is commonly referred to as
the electric force. The magnitude of the electric force on any two objects at rest is inversely
proportional to the square of the distances between them as well as proportional to the product of
the two charges. The direction of the electric force is along the line connecting the charges, and
is repulsive if the signs of the forces are the same and attractive if the signs are opposite. These
observations for two particles at rest are summarized by Coulomb’s law:
Where
is the force on charge 1 by charge 2,
are the magnitudes of the charges,
is the unit vector in the
is the magnitude of the distance between the two charges and
direction pointing from charge 2 to charge 1.
is a constant referred to as the permittivity of
free space, with the accepted value of 8.55 x
when the charges are in a vacuum.
However, charge is a difficult quantity to measure. In using Gauss’s law, force can be written in
measureable quantities:
→ 

 
 
A Coulomb balance is an apparatus consisting of two horizontal aluminum plates, the upper one
being free to pivot while the lower one is mounted. When DC voltage is applied the upper plate
moves toward the lower plate. After adjusting the DC voltage a small weight must be added to
center of the upper plate so that the upper plate returns to its original position, parallel to the
lower plate. Equation (2) only holds true when the voltage is at its initial point, , when there is
no added weight. The gravitational force must now be included when finding the total force:
After solving for m:
1
Using linear regression, graph of m versus
should be a straight line with the slope of
Procedure
Description of Apparatus: A Coulomb balance is used to measure force between two charged
objects. The balance consists of two horizontal plates, the lower one mounted and the upper one
free to move on a pivot. A counter weight is attached to the upper plate to adjust its position. A
mirror is mounted on the Coulomb balance so a laser can be projected to a nearby wall. A circuit
around the Coulomb balance is set so that different voltages can be applied to the balance
ultimately changing the position of the upper plate. In the circuit a resistor is added so that if
during the experiment the upper plate comes in contact with the lower plate a short circuit will be
prevented. 

Steps: 

1. 
Measure the dimensions of the upper plate using a ruler as well as the width of the 
spacer using a micrometer. 

2. 
Place the space between the upper and lower horizontal plate on the Coulomb balance 
and adjust until the upper plate is parallel with the lower plate. Place an object (ex: a 

pen) on the top plate and turn on the laser and mark the position on the laser beam on 

the nearest wall. Remove the object added. 

3. 
Connect the power supply to a resistor and a switch and complete the circuit by 
connecting this to the Coulomb balance. Note: One side of the power supply must be 

connected to the upper plate while the other must go to the lower plate. Connect the 

voltmeter upper and lower plates as well. 

4. 
Remove the spacer and set the power supply to the highest possible amount. Adjust 
the counterweight so that the laser still points at the previously marked spot. 

5. 
Add weights in 5 mg increments. For each added weight decrease the voltage until 
the laser points to the previously marked spot. 

Data: 
2
Length of upper plate: .128 m
Width of upper plate: .127 m
Area of upper plate: .01625
Distance between plates: 3.03mm
Coulomb Balance Weight and Voltage 

Weight Added 
Voltage 
V^2 
Weight Added 

(Milligrams) 
(Volts) 
(Volts^2 ) 
(Kilograms) 

0 
278.5 
77562.25 
0 

5 
239 
57121 
0.000005 

10 
182.2 
33196.84 
0.00001 

15 
133 
17689 
0.000015 

20 

0.00002 

25 

0.000025 
Graph
3
Calculations
Using the equation (4) and the linear regression results we find that:
(
)(
)
Results
According to the theory, the accepted value of
collected, our estimation for
the accepted valve.
is
is
. From the data
, which is approximately a 63% error from
Discussion
The graph mass versus
appears to be very well
fit
by a straight
line
(
). This matches our prediction based on the theory that the linear regression would form a
straight line. We used linear regression to calculate the slope of the best linear line through the
data. The slope is necessary to estimate as shown in the calculations section. The
calculated varies from the accepted value.
This error could be due to the air current flowing in the room as well as the fact the
equipment used was not the most accurate. We did not account for a wind force during our
calculations. Throughout the experiment it is possible that the Coulomb upper and lower plates
fell out of alignment, or the laser was slightly moved. Since these numbers are on such a small
scale, an unnoticeable misalignment in the Coulomb balance somewhere during the experiment
may have a large effect in the overall accuracy of the estimation of . In addition the equations
used were for uniformed electric fields however this is not a uniformed electric field. While we
made the distance between the two plates small to minimize the effect this might have on the
results this may account for some of the error as well.
Based on our results, we can conclude that we should use a more accurate method of
calculating and try to eliminate the sources of error. We did show that using a Coulomb
balance we can model the effect of Coulombs law using measurable quantities, such as voltage.
Since charge is a difficult quantity to measure this method, or a similar one is necessary for
gathering data relating to charge.
Questions
4
Q1: Equation (3) for the electric field of a plane of charge is exact only for an infinite
plane (with q/A replaced by the surface charge density б ). Explain why, by making d small, we
make only a relatively small error by using it for our planes of finite size.
A1: The electric field on the horizontal plates is not uniform. The equation used is for a
uniformed field. Making d small serves to validate the calculation.
Q2: We discussed the meaning of the permittivity €
in a material as an adjustment to the
effective force between two charges due to the presence of other charges:
( 
) 

In class 
we have 
also learned that the 
electric field is 
zero 
inside a conductor in static 

equilibrium. What must be the value of € for such conductor? 

A2: The force would be extremely small for this situation therefore € must increase to 

infinity. 
5