Activity: Work By An Electric Field (Contour Map)

Students will estimate the work done by a given electric field. They will connect the work done to the height of a plastic surface graph of the electric potential.
What students learn
  • Students practice doing a vector line integral of an electric field.
  • Students match the electric field to a surface representing the potential and see that a positive line integral of the electric field corresponds to a drop in the potential (a negative change) \(\int \vec{E} \cdot \vec{dr} = -\Delta V\)

Work by an Electric Field

What Students Learn:

  • Students practice doing a vector line integral of an electric field.
  • Students match the electric field to a surface representing the potential and see that a positive line integral of the electric field corresponds to a drop in the potential (a negative change) \(\int \vec{E} \cdot \vec{dr} = -\Delta V\)

Time Estimate: 20 min

Introduction

  • Students should have practice with doing vector line integrals. We suggest the Vector Integrals activity as a warmup.
  • Students should know that the electric field in the negative gradient of the electric potential.

Whole Class Discussion / Wrap Up:

  • Emphasize the “Chop, Multiply, Add” approach to doing the vector line integral. Allow several groups to share how they performed the integral.
  • Talk about how since the electric field is the gradient (slope) of the potential, the line integral corresponds to multiplying the slope by the “run” to get the “rise”.
  • But there is an overall negative sign, so a positive slope corresponds to a “drop”.

Estimate Work on A Path: The attached vector field represents an electric field. Draw a path starting at the red star and ending at the purple triangle. Estimate the work done on a test charge by the field along the path you drew. The longest vector shown on the vector field has a magnitude of \(15\) electric field units.

Prep - change the beginning and end points to vary the level of difficulty of the integration as needed.

Strategies we've seen:

  1. Chop, Multiply, & Add (what we most want) Select a path tangent to the electric field, chop up the path, estimate the distance between points and magnitudes of electric fields, multiply, and add.
  2. Estimation with Average Value Estimate an average electric field along the path, estimate the length of the path, and multiply.
  3. Change in Potential (Incorrect) Finding the change in potential by saying that the lengths of the arrows are the values of the potential.

Be on the lookout: - Students do not attend to units. This is a good place to discuss how distance on the vector map can mean physical distance or electric field magnitude.

Units: We have intentionally left off SI units for electric field. For electric field, students can either use N/C, which helps students to think about the electric field as force per charge, or V/m, which helps students to think about the electric field as the gradient of the potential. Discussing both is useful.

Path Independence: Some students have trouble distinguishing the path independence of the work done by a conservative field and the path independence of the total displacement. These students will argue that the work done on two different paths is the same because the total displacement is the same. It is nice to have a non-conservative field on hand to give to these students to demonstrate that, although the displacement is path independent, the work is not always path independent.

Relate Representations: How is the work done by the electric field related to the surface?

Discussion: This is a good place to talk about how the electric field is the gradient(slope) of the surface. You're multiplying the slope by a “run” to get a “rise”.

Discussion: Most students know that electric field vectors point toward negative charges and that the negative charge lies at the bottom of a potential well. However, most students are really surprised by the negative sign here. This is the big bang for this activity.

  • group Vector Integrals (Contour Map)

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Vector Integrals (Contour Map)

    E&M Path integrals

  • group Number of Paths

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Number of Paths

    E&M Conservative Fields Surfaces

    Student discuss how many paths can be found on a map of the vector fields \(\vec{F}\) for which the integral \(\int \vec{F}\cdot d\vec{r}\) is positive, negative, or zero. \(\vec{F}\) is conservative. They do a similar activity for the vector field \(\vec{G}\) which is not conservative.
  • group Electric Field of Two Charged Plates

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Electric Field of Two Charged Plates
    • Students need to understand that the surface represents the electric potential in the center of a parallel plate capacitor. Try doing the activity “Electric Potential of a Parallel Plate Capacitor” before this activity.
    • Students should know that
      1. objects with like charge repel and opposite charge attract,
      2. object tend to move toward lower energy configurations
      3. The potential energy of a charged particle is related to its charge: \(U=qV\)
      4. The force on a charged particle is related to its charge: \(\vec{F}=q\vec{E}\)
  • group Electric Field Due to a Ring of Charge

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Electric Field Due to a Ring of Charge
    Static Fields 2022 (6 years)

    coulomb's law electric field charge ring symmetry integral power series superposition

    Power Series Sequence (E&M)

    Ring Cycle Sequence

    Students work in groups of three to use Coulomb's Law \[\vec{E}(\vec{r}) =\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\int\frac{\rho(\vec{r}^{\,\prime})\left(\vec{r}-\vec{r}^{\,\prime}\right)}{\vert \vec{r}-\vec{r}^{\,\prime}\vert^3} \, d\tau^{\prime}\] to find an integral expression for the electric field, \(\vec{E}(\vec{r})\), everywhere in space, due to a ring of charge.

    In an optional extension, students find a series expansion for \(\vec{E}(\vec{r})\) either on the axis or in the plane of the ring, for either small or large values of the relevant geometric variable. Add an extra half hour or more to the time estimate for the optional extension.

  • assignment Symmetry Arguments for Gauss's Law

    assignment Homework

    Symmetry Arguments for Gauss's Law
    Static Fields 2022 (4 years)

    Instructions for 2022: You will need to complete this assignment in a 15 minute appointment on Zoom or in person with one of the members of the teaching team between 1/21 and 10 pm on 1/26. Here is a link to a sign-up page.

    You are required to watch a sample video for how to make symmetry arguments here. As demonstrated in the video you should bring with you to the meeting a cylinder, an observer, and a vector.

    Use good symmetry arguments to find the possible direction for the electric field due to a charged wire. Also, use good symmetry arguments to find the possible functional dependence of the electric field due to a charged wire. Rather than writing this up to turn in, you should find a member of the teaching team and make the arguments to them verbally.

  • group Charged Sphere

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Charged Sphere

    E&M Introductory Physics Electric Potential Electric Field

    Students use a plastic surface representing the potential due to a charged sphere to explore the electrostatic potential, equipotential lines, and the relationship between potential and electric field.
  • group Electric Potential of Two Charged Plates

    group Small Group Activity

    30 min.

    Electric Potential of Two Charged Plates
    Students examine a plastic "surface" graph of the electric potential due to two changes plates (near the center of the plates) and explore the properties of the electric potential.
  • assignment Electric Field from a Rod

    assignment Homework

    Electric Field from a Rod
    Static Fields 2022 (4 years) Consider a thin charged rod of length \(L\) standing along the \(z\)-axis with the bottom end on the \(xy\)-plane. The charge density \(\lambda\) is constant. Find the electric field at the point \((0,0,2L)\).
  • assignment Line Sources Using Coulomb's Law

    assignment Homework

    Line Sources Using Coulomb's Law
    Static Fields 2022 (4 years)
    1. Find the electric field around a finite, uniformly charged, straight rod, at a point a distance \(s\) straight out from the midpoint, starting from Coulomb's Law.
    2. Find the electric field around an infinite, uniformly charged, straight rod, starting from the result for a finite rod.
  • assignment Central Force Definition

    assignment Homework

    Central Force Definition
    Central Forces 2022 (2 years)

    Which of the following forces can be central forces? which cannot? If the force CAN be a central force, explain the circumstances that would allow it to be a central force.

    1. The force on a test mass \(m\) in a gravitational field \(\vec{g~}\), i.e. \(m\vec g\)
    2. The force on a test charge \(q\) in an electric field \(\vec E\), i.e. \(q\vec E\)
    3. The force on a test charge \(q\) moving at velocity \(\vec{v~}\) in a magnetic field \(\vec B\), i.e. \(q\vec v \times \vec B\)


Keywords
E&M Path integrals
Learning Outcomes