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Jackson 3.

7 Homework Problem Solution


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

Apply the boundary condition r=b=0


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

Al =0 for l = odd and l = 0

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

In a similar manner we can solve the case of r < a


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