The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

The Electric Field

What happens if instead of two particles we have three? For simplicity, let’s just consider the resultant force on one of the three particles; say it has charge q and the other particles have charges q_1 and q_2, with displacement vectors r_1 and r_2, respectively. The Coulomb law tells us that the first of the other particles exerts a force

\displaystyle F_1=\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{qq_1}{\lvert r_1\rvert^3}r_1

while the second exerts a force

\displaystyle F_2=\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{qq_2}{\lvert r_2\rvert^3}r_2

As usual, we just add the forces together to get the resultant

\displaystyle\begin{aligned}F&=F_1+F_2\\&=\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{qq_1}{\lvert r_1\rvert^3}r_1+\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{qq_2}{\lvert r_2\rvert^3}r_2\\&=q\left(\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{q_1}{\lvert r_1\rvert^3}r_1+\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{q_2}{\lvert r_2\rvert^3}r_2\right)\end{aligned}

Of course, as we add more particles we just add more terms to the sum. But always we find that the force on the “test” particle with charge q times some vector field: F=qE. Coulomb’s law tells us that a single point of charge q' at the origin gives rise to a vector field whose value at the point with position vector r is

\displaystyle E=\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\frac{q'}{\lvert r\rvert^3}r

That is, it’s sort of like the radial vector field only instead of getting larger as we move away from the origin, it gets smaller, falling off as the square of the distance.

As we’ve just seen, the superposition principle for forces leads to a superposition principle for the electric field: the field generated by two or more sources is the (vector) sum of the fields generated by each source separately.

About these ads

January 5, 2012 - Posted by | Electromagnetism, Mathematical Physics

5 Comments »

  1. [...] superposition principle for the electric field extends to the realm of continuous distributions, with the sum replaced by an appropriate [...]

    Pingback by Charge Distibutions « The Unapologetic Mathematician | January 6, 2012 | Reply

  2. [...] than do any more messy integrals for special cases we will move to a more advanced fact about the electric field. We start with Coulomb’s [...]

    Pingback by Gauss’ Law « The Unapologetic Mathematician | January 11, 2012 | Reply

  3. [...] other means. And, as we saw when discussing Gauss’ law, Coulomb’s law gives rise to an electric field that looks [...]

    Pingback by Faraday’s Law « The Unapologetic Mathematician | January 14, 2012 | Reply

  4. [...] law says that electric charges give rise to an electric field. Given the charge distribution we have the differential contribution to the electric field at the [...]

    Pingback by Maxwell’s Equations « The Unapologetic Mathematician | February 1, 2012 | Reply

  5. [...] now let’s consider the electric field from the perspective of energy. We have an idea that this might be interesting because we know that [...]

    Pingback by Energy and the Electric Field « The Unapologetic Mathematician | February 18, 2012 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 388 other followers

%d bloggers like this: