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Coulomb’s Law and the Permittivity of Free Space

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:

→
ꞈ
(1)
(1)
→

Where

is the force on charge 1 by charge 2,

are the magnitudes of the charges,

ꞈ

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:

 

|

|

(2)
(2)

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

(3)
(3)

Using linear regression, graph of m versus

should be a straight line with the slope of

Procedure

(4) .
(4)
.

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

   
  • 49.8 2480.04

0.00002

25

   
  • 6.87 47.1969

0.000025

Graph

0.00003 Linear Regression of Mass vs Voltage^2 0.000025 0.00002 Weight Added (kilograms) 0.000015 0.00001 y =
0.00003
Linear Regression of Mass vs Voltage^2
0.000025
0.00002
Weight Added
(kilograms)
0.000015
0.00001
y = -2.95E-10x + 2.18E-05
0.000005
R² = 9.56E-01
0
0
20000
40000
60000
80000
100000
-0.000005
Voltage (volts^2)

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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

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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.

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