PHYS208 Fundamentals of Physics II
Quiz 3 -- Charge Distributions
Charge + Q is distributed uniformly along a line segment of length a.
- Derive an expression for the electric field at a point P a distance r
from the end of the segment.
- Demonstrate that for points far away from the segment, this expression for the
electric field behaves like that of a point charge.
Step 1: Understand the geometry
This configuration is similar to the line segment of charge in HRW exercises
23-33P and 25-42P. The difference from 25-42P is that the charge is distributed
uniformly and we seek to find the electric field rather than the electric potential;
in 23-33P you were asked to find the electric field at a different location relative
to the charge distribtuion.
Step 2: Span the charge distribution
Since the charge is on a line segment and the point of evaluation is on its axis,
the translation variable x with the origin at the end is a convenient choice.
The entire charge distribution can then be spanned by varying x from 0 to a.
Alternatively, the variable u with an origin at the point of evaluation P
could be selected, with limits of integration from r to r + a.
Assuming a uniform charge distribution about the ring,
the linear charge density lambda will be Q / a.
In terms of the charge density, the infinitesimal charge element will be
Step 3: Evaluate the contribution from the infinitesimal charge element
Do not use this formula "blindly"; the variable r is a placeholder
for the distance separating the charge infinitesimal and the point of evaluation.
Referring to the diagram below, that distance is r + x.
Thus the infinitesimal contribution to the electric field is
Step 4: Exploit symmetry as appropriate
Since the contribution to the electric field from each charge infinitesimal points in the same direction,
to the right, there is no further simplication of the problem added by symmetry arguments.
Step 5: Set up the integral
Substitution of variable from x to u = r + x
has been made to facilitate solution of the integral.
Step 6: Solve the integral
Step 7: The result!
For r >> a this expression reduces to the expected result
for a point charge Q.
Last updated Mar. 7, 1998.
Copyright George Watson, Univ. of Delaware, 1998.