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College Physics for AP® Courses

18.6 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges

College Physics for AP® Courses18.6 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 1.1 Physics: An Introduction
    3. 1.2 Physical Quantities and Units
    4. 1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures
    5. 1.4 Approximation
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  3. 2 Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 2.1 Displacement
    3. 2.2 Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
    4. 2.3 Time, Velocity, and Speed
    5. 2.4 Acceleration
    6. 2.5 Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
    7. 2.6 Problem-Solving Basics for One Dimensional Kinematics
    8. 2.7 Falling Objects
    9. 2.8 Graphical Analysis of One Dimensional Motion
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  4. 3 Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 3.1 Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction
    3. 3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    4. 3.3 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    5. 3.4 Projectile Motion
    6. 3.5 Addition of Velocities
    7. Glossary
    8. Section Summary
    9. Conceptual Questions
    10. Problems & Exercises
    11. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  5. 4 Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 4.1 Development of Force Concept
    3. 4.2 Newton's First Law of Motion: Inertia
    4. 4.3 Newton's Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
    5. 4.4 Newton's Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
    6. 4.5 Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Force
    7. 4.6 Problem-Solving Strategies
    8. 4.7 Further Applications of Newton's Laws of Motion
    9. 4.8 Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  6. 5 Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 5.1 Friction
    3. 5.2 Drag Forces
    4. 5.3 Elasticity: Stress and Strain
    5. Glossary
    6. Section Summary
    7. Conceptual Questions
    8. Problems & Exercises
    9. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  7. 6 Gravitation and Uniform Circular Motion
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 6.1 Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    3. 6.2 Centripetal Acceleration
    4. 6.3 Centripetal Force
    5. 6.4 Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames: The Coriolis Force
    6. 6.5 Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation
    7. 6.6 Satellites and Kepler's Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  8. 7 Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 7.1 Work: The Scientific Definition
    3. 7.2 Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
    4. 7.3 Gravitational Potential Energy
    5. 7.4 Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
    6. 7.5 Nonconservative Forces
    7. 7.6 Conservation of Energy
    8. 7.7 Power
    9. 7.8 Work, Energy, and Power in Humans
    10. 7.9 World Energy Use
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  9. 8 Linear Momentum and Collisions
    1. Connection for AP® courses
    2. 8.1 Linear Momentum and Force
    3. 8.2 Impulse
    4. 8.3 Conservation of Momentum
    5. 8.4 Elastic Collisions in One Dimension
    6. 8.5 Inelastic Collisions in One Dimension
    7. 8.6 Collisions of Point Masses in Two Dimensions
    8. 8.7 Introduction to Rocket Propulsion
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  10. 9 Statics and Torque
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 9.1 The First Condition for Equilibrium
    3. 9.2 The Second Condition for Equilibrium
    4. 9.3 Stability
    5. 9.4 Applications of Statics, Including Problem-Solving Strategies
    6. 9.5 Simple Machines
    7. 9.6 Forces and Torques in Muscles and Joints
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  11. 10 Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 10.1 Angular Acceleration
    3. 10.2 Kinematics of Rotational Motion
    4. 10.3 Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
    5. 10.4 Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
    6. 10.5 Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
    7. 10.6 Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
    8. 10.7 Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  12. 11 Fluid Statics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 11.1 What Is a Fluid?
    3. 11.2 Density
    4. 11.3 Pressure
    5. 11.4 Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
    6. 11.5 Pascal’s Principle
    7. 11.6 Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
    8. 11.7 Archimedes’ Principle
    9. 11.8 Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
    10. 11.9 Pressures in the Body
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  13. 12 Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 12.1 Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
    3. 12.2 Bernoulli’s Equation
    4. 12.3 The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
    5. 12.4 Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
    6. 12.5 The Onset of Turbulence
    7. 12.6 Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
    8. 12.7 Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  14. 13 Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 13.1 Temperature
    3. 13.2 Thermal Expansion of Solids and Liquids
    4. 13.3 The Ideal Gas Law
    5. 13.4 Kinetic Theory: Atomic and Molecular Explanation of Pressure and Temperature
    6. 13.5 Phase Changes
    7. 13.6 Humidity, Evaporation, and Boiling
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  15. 14 Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 14.1 Heat
    3. 14.2 Temperature Change and Heat Capacity
    4. 14.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
    5. 14.4 Heat Transfer Methods
    6. 14.5 Conduction
    7. 14.6 Convection
    8. 14.7 Radiation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  16. 15 Thermodynamics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics
    3. 15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
    4. 15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
    5. 15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
    6. 15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
    7. 15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
    8. 15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  17. 16 Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 16.1 Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
    3. 16.2 Period and Frequency in Oscillations
    4. 16.3 Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
    5. 16.4 The Simple Pendulum
    6. 16.5 Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
    7. 16.6 Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
    8. 16.7 Damped Harmonic Motion
    9. 16.8 Forced Oscillations and Resonance
    10. 16.9 Waves
    11. 16.10 Superposition and Interference
    12. 16.11 Energy in Waves: Intensity
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  18. 17 Physics of Hearing
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 17.1 Sound
    3. 17.2 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
    4. 17.3 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
    5. 17.4 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
    6. 17.5 Sound Interference and Resonance: Standing Waves in Air Columns
    7. 17.6 Hearing
    8. 17.7 Ultrasound
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  19. 18 Electric Charge and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 18.1 Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
    3. 18.2 Conductors and Insulators
    4. 18.3 Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
    5. 18.4 Coulomb’s Law
    6. 18.5 Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
    7. 18.6 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
    8. 18.7 Electric Forces in Biology
    9. 18.8 Applications of Electrostatics
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  20. 19 Electric Potential and Electric Field
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 19.1 Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
    3. 19.2 Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
    4. 19.3 Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
    5. 19.4 Equipotential Lines
    6. 19.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
    7. 19.6 Capacitors in Series and Parallel
    8. 19.7 Energy Stored in Capacitors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  21. 20 Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 20.1 Current
    3. 20.2 Ohm’s Law: Resistance and Simple Circuits
    4. 20.3 Resistance and Resistivity
    5. 20.4 Electric Power and Energy
    6. 20.5 Alternating Current versus Direct Current
    7. 20.6 Electric Hazards and the Human Body
    8. 20.7 Nerve Conduction–Electrocardiograms
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  22. 21 Circuits, Bioelectricity, and DC Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 21.1 Resistors in Series and Parallel
    3. 21.2 Electromotive Force: Terminal Voltage
    4. 21.3 Kirchhoff’s Rules
    5. 21.4 DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    6. 21.5 Null Measurements
    7. 21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  23. 22 Magnetism
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 22.1 Magnets
    3. 22.2 Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
    4. 22.3 Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
    5. 22.4 Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
    6. 22.5 Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
    7. 22.6 The Hall Effect
    8. 22.7 Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
    9. 22.8 Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
    10. 22.9 Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
    11. 22.10 Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
    12. 22.11 More Applications of Magnetism
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
    17. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  24. 23 Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 23.1 Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
    3. 23.2 Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
    4. 23.3 Motional Emf
    5. 23.4 Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
    6. 23.5 Electric Generators
    7. 23.6 Back Emf
    8. 23.7 Transformers
    9. 23.8 Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
    10. 23.9 Inductance
    11. 23.10 RL Circuits
    12. 23.11 Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
    13. 23.12 RLC Series AC Circuits
    14. Glossary
    15. Section Summary
    16. Conceptual Questions
    17. Problems & Exercises
    18. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  25. 24 Electromagnetic Waves
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 24.1 Maxwell’s Equations: Electromagnetic Waves Predicted and Observed
    3. 24.2 Production of Electromagnetic Waves
    4. 24.3 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 24.4 Energy in Electromagnetic Waves
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
    10. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  26. 25 Geometric Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 25.1 The Ray Aspect of Light
    3. 25.2 The Law of Reflection
    4. 25.3 The Law of Refraction
    5. 25.4 Total Internal Reflection
    6. 25.5 Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms
    7. 25.6 Image Formation by Lenses
    8. 25.7 Image Formation by Mirrors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  27. 26 Vision and Optical Instruments
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 26.1 Physics of the Eye
    3. 26.2 Vision Correction
    4. 26.3 Color and Color Vision
    5. 26.4 Microscopes
    6. 26.5 Telescopes
    7. 26.6 Aberrations
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  28. 27 Wave Optics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 27.1 The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
    3. 27.2 Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
    4. 27.3 Young’s Double Slit Experiment
    5. 27.4 Multiple Slit Diffraction
    6. 27.5 Single Slit Diffraction
    7. 27.6 Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
    8. 27.7 Thin Film Interference
    9. 27.8 Polarization
    10. 27.9 *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  29. 28 Special Relativity
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 28.1 Einstein’s Postulates
    3. 28.2 Simultaneity And Time Dilation
    4. 28.3 Length Contraction
    5. 28.4 Relativistic Addition of Velocities
    6. 28.5 Relativistic Momentum
    7. 28.6 Relativistic Energy
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  30. 29 Introduction to Quantum Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 29.1 Quantization of Energy
    3. 29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
    4. 29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 29.4 Photon Momentum
    6. 29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
    7. 29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
    8. 29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
    9. 29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
    14. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  31. 30 Atomic Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 30.1 Discovery of the Atom
    3. 30.2 Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
    4. 30.3 Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
    5. 30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
    6. 30.5 Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
    7. 30.6 The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
    8. 30.7 Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
    9. 30.8 Quantum Numbers and Rules
    10. 30.9 The Pauli Exclusion Principle
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
    15. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  32. 31 Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 31.1 Nuclear Radioactivity
    3. 31.2 Radiation Detection and Detectors
    4. 31.3 Substructure of the Nucleus
    5. 31.4 Nuclear Decay and Conservation Laws
    6. 31.5 Half-Life and Activity
    7. 31.6 Binding Energy
    8. 31.7 Tunneling
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  33. 32 Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 32.1 Medical Imaging and Diagnostics
    3. 32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
    4. 32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
    5. 32.4 Food Irradiation
    6. 32.5 Fusion
    7. 32.6 Fission
    8. 32.7 Nuclear Weapons
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
    13. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  34. 33 Particle Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
    3. 33.2 The Four Basic Forces
    4. 33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
    5. 33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
    6. 33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
    7. 33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
    12. Test Prep for AP® Courses
  35. 34 Frontiers of Physics
    1. Connection for AP® Courses
    2. 34.1 Cosmology and Particle Physics
    3. 34.2 General Relativity and Quantum Gravity
    4. 34.3 Superstrings
    5. 34.4 Dark Matter and Closure
    6. 34.5 Complexity and Chaos
    7. 34.6 High-Temperature Superconductors
    8. 34.7 Some Questions We Know to Ask
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  36. A | Atomic Masses
  37. B | Selected Radioactive Isotopes
  38. C | Useful Information
  39. D | Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation
  40. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
    33. Chapter 33
    34. Chapter 34
  41. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Calculate the total force (magnitude and direction) exerted on a test charge from more than one charge.
  • Describe an electric field diagram of a positive point charge and of a negative point charge with twice the magnitude of the positive charge.
  • Draw the electric field lines between two points of the same charge and between two points of opposite charge.

The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:

  • 2.C.1.2 The student is able to calculate any one of the variables – electric force, electric charge, and electric field – at a point given the values and sign or direction of the other two quantities.
  • 2.C.2.1 The student is able to qualitatively and semiquantitatively apply the vector relationship between the electric field and the net electric charge creating that field.
  • 2.C.4.1 The student is able to distinguish the characteristics that differ between monopole fields (gravitational field of spherical mass and electrical field due to single point charge) and dipole fields (electric dipole field and magnetic field) and make claims about the spatial behavior of the fields using qualitative or semiquantitative arguments based on vector addition of fields due to each point source, including identifying the locations and signs of sources from a vector diagram of the field. (S.P. 2.2, 6.4, 7.2)
  • 2.C.4.2 The student is able to apply mathematical routines to determine the magnitude and direction of the electric field at specified points in the vicinity of a small set (2-4) of point charges, and express the results in terms of magnitude and direction of the field in a visual representation by drawing field vectors of appropriate length and direction at the specified points. (S.P. 1.4, 2.2)
  • 3.C.2.3 The student is able to use mathematics to describe the electric force that results from the interaction of several separated point charges (generally 2-4 point charges, though more are permitted in situations of high symmetry). (S.P. 2.2)

Drawings using lines to represent electric fields around charged objects are very useful in visualizing field strength and direction. Since the electric field has both magnitude and direction, it is a vector. Like all vectors, the electric field can be represented by an arrow that has length proportional to its magnitude and that points in the correct direction. (We have used arrows extensively to represent force vectors, for example.)

Figure 18.30 shows two pictorial representations of the same electric field created by a positive point charge QQ size 12{Q} {}. Figure 18.30 (b) shows the standard representation using continuous lines. Figure 18.30 (a) shows numerous individual arrows with each arrow representing the force on a test charge qq size 12{q} {}. Field lines are essentially a map of infinitesimal force vectors.

In part a, electric field lines emanating from the charge Q are shown by the vector arrows pointing outward in every direction of two dimensional space. In part b, electric field lines emanating from the charge Q are shown by the vector arrows pointing outward in every direction of two dimensional space.
Figure 18.30 Two equivalent representations of the electric field due to a positive charge QQ size 12{Q} {}. (a) Arrows representing the electric field's magnitude and direction. (b) In the standard representation, the arrows are replaced by continuous field lines having the same direction at any point as the electric field. The closeness of the lines is directly related to the strength of the electric field. A test charge placed anywhere will feel a force in the direction of the field line; this force will have a strength proportional to the density of the lines (being greater near the charge, for example).

Note that the electric field is defined for a positive test charge qq size 12{q} {}, so that the field lines point away from a positive charge and toward a negative charge. (See Figure 18.31.) The electric field strength is exactly proportional to the number of field lines per unit area, since the magnitude of the electric field for a point charge is E=k|Q|/r2E=k|Q|/r2 size 12{E= { ital "kQ"} slash {r rSup { size 8{2} } } } {} and area is proportional to r2r2 size 12{r rSup { size 8{2} } } {}. This pictorial representation, in which field lines represent the direction and their closeness (that is, their areal density or the number of lines crossing a unit area) represents strength, is used for all fields: electrostatic, gravitational, magnetic, and others.

In part a, electric field lines emanating from a positive charge is shown by the vector arrows in all direction of two dimensional space and the density of these field lines is less. In part b, electric field lines entering the negative charge is shown by the vector arrows coming from all direction of two dimensional space and the density of these field lines is less. In part c, electric field lines entering the negative charge is shown by the vector arrows coming from all direction of two dimensional space and the density of these field lines is large.
Figure 18.31 The electric field surrounding three different point charges. (a) A positive charge. (b) A negative charge of equal magnitude. (c) A larger negative charge.

In many situations, there are multiple charges. The total electric field created by multiple charges is the vector sum of the individual fields created by each charge. The following example shows how to add electric field vectors.

Example 18.4 Adding Electric Fields

Find the magnitude and direction of the total electric field due to the two point charges, q1q1 size 12{q rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and q2q2 size 12{q rSub { size 8{2} } } {}, at the origin of the coordinate system as shown in Figure 18.32.

Two charges are placed on a coordinate axes. Q two is at the position x equals 4 and y equals 0 centimeters. Q one is at the position x equals 0 and y equals two centimeters. Charge on q one is plus five point zero nano coulomb and charge on q two is plus ten nano coulomb. The electric field, E one having a magnitude of one point one three multiplied by ten raise to the power five Newton per coulomb is represented by a vector arrow along positive y axis starting from the origin. The electric field, E two having magnitude zero point five six multiplied by ten raise to the power five Newton per coulomb is represented by a vector arrow along negative x axis starting from the origin. The resultant field makes an angle of sixty three point four degree above the negative y axis having magnitude one point two six multiplied by ten raise to the power five Newton per coulomb is represented by a vector arrow pointing away from the origin in the second quadrant.
Figure 18.32 The electric fields E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {} at the origin O add to EtotEtot size 12{E rSub { size 8{"tot"} } } {}.

Strategy

Since the electric field is a vector (having magnitude and direction), we add electric fields with the same vector techniques used for other types of vectors. We first must find the electric field due to each charge at the point of interest, which is the origin of the coordinate system (O) in this instance. We pretend that there is a positive test charge, qq size 12{q} {}, at point O, which allows us to determine the direction of the fields E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {}. Once those fields are found, the total field can be determined using vector addition.

Solution

The electric field strength at the origin due to q1q1 size 12{q rSub { size 8{1} } } {} is labeled E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and is calculated:

E1=kq1r12=8.99×109Nm2/C25.00×109C2.00×102m2E1=1.124×105N/C.E1=kq1r12=8.99×109Nm2/C25.00×109C2.00×102m2E1=1.124×105N/C.alignl { stack { size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } =k { {q rSub { size 8{1} } } over {r rSub { size 8{1} } rSup { size 8{2} } } } = left (9 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{9} } N cdot m rSup { size 8{2} } "/C" rSup { size 8{2} } right ) { { left (5 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 9} } C right )} over { left (2 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 2} } m right ) rSup { size 8{2} } } } } {} # E rSub { size 8{1} } =1 "." "125" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } "N/C" {} } } {}
18.16

Similarly, E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {} is

E2=kq2r22=8.99×109Nm2/C210.0×109C4.00×102m2E2=0.5619×105N/C.E2=kq2r22=8.99×109Nm2/C210.0×109C4.00×102m2E2=0.5619×105N/C.alignl { stack { size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } =k { {q rSub { size 8{2} } } over {r rSub { size 8{2} } rSup { size 8{2} } } } = left (9 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{9} } N cdot m rSup { size 8{2} } "/C" rSup { size 8{2} } right ) { { left ("10" "." 0 times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 9} } C right )} over { left (4 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 2} } m right ) rSup { size 8{2} } } } } {} # E rSub { size 8{2} } =0 "." "5625" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } "N/C" {} } } {}
18.17

Four digits have been retained in this solution to illustrate that E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} is exactly twice the magnitude of E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {}. Now arrows are drawn to represent the magnitudes and directions of E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {}. (See Figure 18.32.) The direction of the electric field is that of the force on a positive charge so both arrows point directly away from the positive charges that create them. The arrow for E1E1 size 12{E rSub { size 8{1} } } {} is exactly twice the length of that for E2E2 size 12{E rSub { size 8{2} } } {}. The arrows form a right triangle in this case and can be added using the Pythagorean theorem. The magnitude of the total field EtotEtot size 12{E rSub { size 8{"tot"} } } {} is

E tot = ( E 1 2 + E 2 2 ) 1/2 = { ( 1.124 × 10 5 N/C ) 2 + ( 0.5619 × 10 5 N/C ) 2 } 1/2 = 1.26 × 10 5 N/C. E tot = ( E 1 2 + E 2 2 ) 1/2 = { ( 1.124 × 10 5 N/C ) 2 + ( 0.5619 × 10 5 N/C ) 2 } 1/2 = 1.26 × 10 5 N/C. alignl { stack { size 12{E rSub { size 8{ ital "tot"} } `= \( E rSub { size 8{1} } rSup { size 8{2} } `+`E rSub { size 8{2} } rSup { size 8{2} } \) rSup { size 8{ {1} wideslash {2} } } } {} # ~``=` lbrace \( 1 "." "125" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } `"N/C" \) rSup { size 8{2} } `+` \( 0 "." "5625" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } `"N/C" \) rSup { size 8{2} } rbrace rSup { size 8{ {1} wideslash {2} } } {} # `~`=``1 "." "26" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } `"N/C" {} } } {}
18.18

The direction is

θ = tan1E1E2 = tan11.124×105N/C0.5619×105N/C = 63.,θ = tan1E1E2 = tan11.124×105N/C0.5619×105N/C = 63.,alignl { stack { size 12{θ="tan" rSup { size 8{ - 1} } left ( { {E rSub { size 8{1} } } over {E rSub { size 8{2} } } } right )} {} # ="tan" rSup { size 8{ - 1} } left lbrace { {1 "." "125" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } " N/C"} over {0 "." "5625" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } " N/C"} } right rbrace {} # ="63" "." 4° {} } } {}
18.19

or 63.4º63.4º above the x-axis.

Discussion

In cases where the electric field vectors to be added are not perpendicular, vector components or graphical techniques can be used. The total electric field found in this example is the total electric field at only one point in space. To find the total electric field due to these two charges over an entire region, the same technique must be repeated for each point in the region. This impossibly lengthy task (there are an infinite number of points in space) can be avoided by calculating the total field at representative points and using some of the unifying features noted next.

Figure 18.33 shows how the electric field from two point charges can be drawn by finding the total field at representative points and drawing electric field lines consistent with those points. While the electric fields from multiple charges are more complex than those of single charges, some simple features are easily noticed.

For example, the field is weaker between like charges, as shown by the lines being farther apart in that region. (This is because the fields from each charge exert opposing forces on any charge placed between them.) (See Figure 18.33 and Figure 18.34(a).) Furthermore, at a great distance from two like charges, the field becomes identical to the field from a single, larger charge.

Figure 18.34(b) shows the electric field of two unlike charges.

Making Connections: Electric Dipole

As the two unlike charges are also equal in magnitude, the pair of charges is also known as an electric dipole.

The field is stronger between the charges. In that region, the fields from each charge are in the same direction, and so their strengths add. The field of two unlike charges is weak at large distances, because the fields of the individual charges are in opposite directions and so their strengths subtract. At very large distances, the field of two unlike charges looks like that of a smaller single charge.

Two charges q one and q two are placed at a distance and their field lines shown by curved arrows move away from each other. At a point P on the field lines emanating from q one, the resultant electric field is represented by a vector arrow tangent to the curve representing this field line. A point P prime on a field line emanating from the charge q two and the resultant electric field is represented by a vector arrow tangent to the curve representing this field line.
Figure 18.33 Two positive point charges q1q1 size 12{q rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and q2q2 size 12{q rSub { size 8{2} } } {} produce the resultant electric field shown. The field is calculated at representative points and then smooth field lines drawn following the rules outlined in the text.
In part a, two negative charges of magnitude minus q are placed at some distance. Their field lines are represented by curved arrows terminating into the negative charges. The curves are divergent. In part b, two charges are placed at a distance where one is positive labeled as plus q and other is negative labeled as minus q. The field lines represented by curved arrows start from the positive charge and end at the negative charge. The curves are convergent.
Figure 18.34 (a) Two negative charges produce the fields shown. It is very similar to the field produced by two positive charges, except that the directions are reversed. The field is clearly weaker between the charges. The individual forces on a test charge in that region are in opposite directions. (b) Two opposite charges produce the field shown, which is stronger in the region between the charges.

We use electric field lines to visualize and analyze electric fields (the lines are a pictorial tool, not a physical entity in themselves). The properties of electric field lines for any charge distribution can be summarized as follows:

  1. Field lines must begin on positive charges and terminate on negative charges, or at infinity in the hypothetical case of isolated charges.
  2. The number of field lines leaving a positive charge or entering a negative charge is proportional to the magnitude of the charge.
  3. The strength of the field is proportional to the closeness of the field lines—more precisely, it is proportional to the number of lines per unit area perpendicular to the lines.
  4. The direction of the electric field is tangent to the field line at any point in space.
  5. Field lines can never cross.

The last property means that the field is unique at any point. The field line represents the direction of the field; so if they crossed, the field would have two directions at that location (an impossibility if the field is unique).

PhET Explorations: Charges and Fields

Move point charges around on the playing field and then view the electric field, voltages, equipotential lines, and more. It's colorful, it's dynamic, it's free.

Figure 18.35 Charges and Fields
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