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Electrostatics of Conductors

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Gauss's Law and Symmetry

Generally we find that Gauss's law is useful in calculating the electric field for three situations. Those are for charge distributions having the following symmetry:
  1. point symmetry (spherical)
  2. line symmetry (cylindrical) -- See example.
  3. planar symmetry (sheet)

For the first two symmetries, we apply gaussian surfaces which are spheres and end-capped cylinders, respectively.

For planar symmetry, a cylinder is also used although it is oriented differently from the line symmetry case. When I was a new student of physics we called this the gaussian pillbox, a term which has fallen into disuse; we will refer to it as a gaussian can.

Gauss's Law and the Sheet of Charge

Charged, Isolated Conductors

Concept Check

Van der Graaff Generator Demonstrations

Dielectric breakdown of air
arc (or corona) discharge -- important in photocopying
Lightning rods

Quiz 3: Charge Distributions


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Last updated Sept. 26, 1997.
Copyright George Watson, Univ. of Delaware, 1997.