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Dr. Christopher S. Baird

University of Massachusetts Lowell

PROBLEM:

Three point charges (q, -2q, q) are located in a straight line with separation a and with the middle

charge (-2q) at the origin of a grounded conducting spherical shell of radius b, as indicated in the

sketch.

z

q

=0

a

-2q

a q

(a) Write down the potential of the three charges in the absence of the grounded sphere. Find the

limiting form of the potential as a 0, but the product qa2 = Q remains finite. Write this latter answer

in spherical coordinates.

(b) The presence of the grounded sphere of radius b alters the potential for r < b. The added potential

can be viewed as caused by the surface-charge density induced on the inner surface at r = b or by image

charges located at r > b. Use linear superposition to satisfy the boundary conditions and find the

potential everywhere inside the sphere for r < a and r > a. Show that in the limit a 0,

r , ,

Q

r5

1

P 2 cos

2 0 r 3

b5

SOLUTION:

(a) We already know the potential due to one point charge. We just add up the potential from each

point charge:

r=

q

1

q

1

2q 1

4 0 ra z 4 0 ra z 4 0 r

Expand the first two terms using the Legendre polynomial expansions shown below in order to get a

solution in spherical coordinates:

r l0

1

=

P cos if r r 0

rr0 l =0 r l 1 l

1

rl

=

P cos if r r 0

rr0 l =0 r l01 l

If r a , r=

r=

q al

q 1l al

2q 1

P

cos

P l cos

l

l1

l1

4 0 l =0 r

4 0 l=0 r

4 0 r

q

2

a

11l l1 P l cos

4 0 r l =0

r

r=

2q

a

P cos (if r a )

4 0 l =2,4,6... r l 1 l

If r a , r=

r=

l

q rl

q

2q 1

l r

P

cos

1

P l cos

l1

4 0 l =0 a l 1 l

4 0 l =0

4

0 r

a

2q

rl

a

1 l , 0 P l cos

4 0 l =0,even a l1

r

(if r a )

Set qa2 = Q and keep it finite. As a 0, the only potential that matters is the r a case:

r=

l 2

2Q

a P cos

4 0 l=0,2,4. .. r l1 l

a 0

As a 0, the higher terms in l get increasingly smaller, so that we only need to keep the first nonzero

term:

r=

2Q 1

P cos ...

4 0 r 3 2

r=

Q 1

2

3 cos 1

4 0 r 3

The l = 0 term vanishes. This makes sense because the l = 0 term is the total charge (monopole)

moment of the system and in this case the total charge is zero. The l = 1 term (the dipole moment term)

drops out because of the symmetry of the charges. The first non-zero term is the quadrupole moment

term (l = 2).

(b) The presence of the grounded sphere of radius b alters the potential for r < b. The added potential

can be viewed as caused by the surface-charge density induced on the inner surface at r = b or by image

charges located at r > b. Use linear superposition to satisfy the boundary conditions and find the

potential everywhere inside the sphere for r < a and r > a. Show that in the limit a 0,

r , ,

Q

r

1 5 P 2 cos

3

2 0 r

b

We don't have to explicitly place image charges. Rather we recognize that the image charges will create

an additional potential to add to the potential of the original charges, and this image potential will be

azimuthally symmetric and can thus be expanded in Legendre polynomials:

l

2q

a

r= Al r Pl cos

P cos if r a

4 0 l =2,4,6... r l1 l

l

l

0= Al b l P l cos

l

0=Al b l

2q

al

P cos

4 0 l =2,4,6. .. b l1 l

2q a

and

4 0 b l1

2 q a l

Al =

4 0 b 2l 1

r=

l =2,even

2q a

4 0 b

b

r

l1 Pl cos (if r a )

l 1

r

b

r=

2q

a

4 0 l =0,even b

1

bl

1

bl 1

l , 0 r l P l cos

l1

2 l1

l 1

2l

r

b

a

b

a

(if r a )

Set qa2 = Q and keep it finite. As a 0, the only potential that matters is the r a case:

r=

l =2,even

2Q

a

2

4 0 a b

bl

rl

P l cos

r l 1 b l1

As a 0, the higher terms in l get increasingly smaller, so that we only need to keep the first nonzero

term:

r=

[ ]

Q 1

r5

1

P 2 cos

2 0 r 3

b5

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