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Section 4: The relationship between electric

field and voltage for some simple devices

Aims of this section

To introduce the concepts of electric work, electric potential
and voltage, and to show how these are related to the electric
field for some simple electronic devices.

Objectives of this section

After completing this section, you should

• understand fully the concepts of electric work, voltage and
electric potential
• be able to find E in terms of the voltage across a charged
parallel plate capacitor and a semiconductor resistor

Semiconductors & EM Theory 1 Lecture 4

4.1 Electrical work W and potential energy U

Move a charge q in a uniform E.

Work done in moving dx is

dW = F A . d x = −qE. d x = qEdx FA is the applied force

Total work done is
WBA = ∫ qE dx = qE (x B − x A )
Semiconductors & EM Theory 2 Lecture 4
By the principle of energy conservation, this equals the
change of potential energy U

WBA = U B − U A = qE (x B − x A ) (4.1)

The potential difference V BA between points B and A is

defined to be
V BA = = = E (x B − x A )
q q
i.e. potential difference between to points is the work done in
moving a +1 C charge between them

Semiconductors & EM Theory 3 Lecture 4

4.3 E and V for a capacitor

Our aim is to find V between the plates in terms of E.

Use previous equation with d = x B − x A

V = E d , or equivalently E = (4.3)

Semiconductors & EM Theory 4 Lecture 4

4.4 Capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor

E in terms of Q on each of the capacitor plates is

ε rε0 A

Since V = Ed, we find that

V Q Q ε r ε0 A
= → C= =
d ε rε0 A V d

The ratio of Q/V is known as the capacitance C of the

capacitor; it’s S.I. unit is the Farad (F). C is a function only of
the geometry of the capacitor and of the relative permittivity
of the material filling the space between its plates.

Semiconductors & EM Theory 5 Lecture 4

4.5 The electric potential φ and its variation between the
plates of a charged capacitor

Potential difference between plates is V BA = φ B − φ A

At some point x from plate B

x x
φ ( x ) − φB = − ∫ E .d x = − E ∫ dx = − Ex
x =0 x =0

Semiconductors & EM Theory 6 Lecture 4

Therefore, φ (x ) = φ B − Ex (4.5)

This example shows that the electric field magnitude is

minus the potential gradient, i.e.

E=− (4.6)
4.6 E and V for a resistor
Semiconductors & EM Theory 7 Lecture 4
Within the semiconductor (whether pure or doped), the
overall electrical charge density is zero

i.e. from Gauss’ law

dE ρ
= =0
dx ε r ε 0

Semiconductors & EM Theory 8 Lecture 4

This means that E is constant inside the semiconductor.

we see that φ (x ) varies linearly with distance x

• Within the semiconductor E =

Semiconductors & EM Theory 9 Lecture 4

4.5 Summary

You should now understand the meaning of the following


• electrical work W
• potential energy U
• potential difference or voltage V
• electric potential φ

You should now be able to calculate the potential at various

points inside a simple device such as a capacitor or a resistor,
and be able to relate the electric field magnitude E in the device
to the voltage V across it.

Semiconductors & EM Theory 10 Lecture 4