Students work in small groups to use the superposition principle \[V(\vec{r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\sum_i \frac{q_i}{\vert\vec{r}-\vec{r}_i\vert}\] to find the electrostatic potential \(V\) everywhere in space due to a pair of charges (either identical charges or a dipole). This activity can be paired with activity 29 to find the limiting cases of the potential on the axes of symmetry.
Electrostatic Potential from Two Charges
- Find a formula for the electrostatic potential \(V(\vec{r})\) that is valid everywhere in space for the following two physical situations:
- Two charges \(+Q\) and \(+Q\) placed on a line at \(z'=D\) and \(z''=-D\).
- Two charges \(+Q\) and \(-Q\) placed on a line at \(z'=D\) and \(z''=-D\), respectively.
- Simplify your formulas in the limiting cases of:
- the \(x\)-axis
- the \(z\)-axis
- Discuss the relationship between the symmetries of the physical situations and the symmetries of the functions in these limiting cases.
It may help to do the The Distance Formula (Star Trek) activity before this one. There is an alternative version of this activity Electrostatic Potential Due to a Pair of Charges (with Series) in which students find series expansions of the potential along the axes of symmetry.
Students typically know the iconic formula for the electrostatic potential of a point charge \(V=\frac{kq}{r}\). We begin this activity with a short lecture/discussion that generalizes this formula in a coordinate independent way to the situation where the source is moved away from the origin to the point \(\vec{r}^{\prime}\), \(V(\vec{r})=\frac{kq}{|\vec{r} - \vec{r}^{\prime}|}\). (A nice warm-up (SWBQ) to lead off the discussion:
Introductory SWBQ Prompt: “Write down the electrostatic potential everywhere in space due to a point charge that is not at the origin.” The lecture should also review the superposition principle. \[ V(\vec{r})=\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\sum_{i}\frac{q_i}{|\vec{r} - \vec{r_i}|} \]
This general, coordinate-independent formula should be left on the board for students to consult as they do this activity.
assignment Homework
Find the electrostatic potential at a point \(\vec{r}\) on the \(x\)-axis at a distance \(x\) from the center of the quadrupole.
A series of charges arranged in this way is called a linear quadrupole. Why?
assignment Homework
Consider a collection of three charges arranged in a line along the \(z\)-axis: charges \(+Q\) at \(z=\pm D\) and charge \(-2Q\) at \(z=0\).
computer Computer Simulation
30 min.
group Small Group Activity
60 min.
electrostatic potential multipole charge symmetry scalar field superposition coulomb's Law
Students work in small groups to use the superposition principle \[V(\vec{r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\sum_i \frac{q_i}{\vert\vec{r}-\vec{r}_i\vert}\] to find the electrostatic potential \(V\) everywhere in space due to a pair of charges (either identical charges or a dipole). Different groups are assigned different arrangements of charges and different regions of space to consider: either on the axis of the charges or in the plane equidistant from the two charges, for either small or large values of the relevant geometric variable. Each group is asked to find a power series expansion for the electrostatic potential, valid in their group's assigned region of space. The whole class wrap-up discussion then compares and contrasts the results and discuss the symmetries of the two cases.group Small Group Activity
30 min.
electrostatic potential charge linear charge density taylor series power series scalar field superposition symmetry distance formula
Students work in groups of three to use the superposition principle \[V(\vec{r}) =\frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\int\frac{\rho(\vec{r}^{\,\prime})}{\vert \vec{r}-\vec{r}^{\,\prime}\vert} \, d\tau^{\prime}\] to find an integral expression for the electrostatic potential, \(V(\vec{r})\), everywhere in space, due to a ring of charge.
In an optional extension, students find a series expansion for \(V(\vec{r})\) 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 Homework
In this course, two of the primary examples we will be using are the potential due to gravity and the potential due to an electric charge. Both of these forces vary like \(\frac{1}{r}\), so they will have many, many similarities. Most of the calculations we do for the one case will be true for the other. But there are some extremely important differences:
assignment Homework
Find the electric field around an infinite, uniformly charged, straight wire, starting from the following expression for the electrostatic potential: \begin{equation} V(\vec r)=\frac{2\lambda}{4\pi\epsilon_0}\, \ln\left( \frac{ s_0}{s} \right) \end{equation}
group Small Group Activity
30 min.
coulomb's law electric field charge ring symmetry integral power series superposition
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 Homework
For an infinitesimally thin cylindrical shell of radius \(b\) with uniform surface charge density \(\sigma\), the electric field is zero for \(s<b\) and \(\vec{E}= \frac{\sigma b}{\epsilon_0 s}\, \hat s\) for \(s > b\). Use the differential form of Gauss' Law to find the charge density everywhere in space.
assignment Homework