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Properties of a conductor in electrostatic equilibrium

  1. The electric field is zero inside a conductor.
  2. Just outside a conductor, the electric field lines are perpendicular to its surface, ending or beginning on charges on the surface.
  3. Any excess charge resides entirely on the surface or surfaces of a conductor.

The properties of a conductor are consistent with the situations already discussed and can be used to analyze any conductor in electrostatic equilibrium. This can lead to some interesting new insights, such as described below.

How can a very uniform electric field be created? Consider a system of two metal plates with opposite charges on them, as shown in [link] . The properties of conductors in electrostatic equilibrium indicate that the electric field between the plates will be uniform in strength and direction. Except near the edges, the excess charges distribute themselves uniformly, producing field lines that are uniformly spaced (hence uniform in strength) and perpendicular to the surfaces (hence uniform in direction, since the plates are flat). The edge effects are less important when the plates are close together.

Two charged metal plates are shown. The lower plate has negative charge and the upper plate has positive charge. The electric field lines start from positive plate and enter the negative plate represented by arrows.
Two metal plates with equal, but opposite, excess charges. The field between them is uniform in strength and direction except near the edges. One use of such a field is to produce uniform acceleration of charges between the plates, such as in the electron gun of a TV tube.

Earth’s electric field

A near uniform electric field of approximately 150 N/C, directed downward, surrounds Earth, with the magnitude increasing slightly as we get closer to the surface. What causes the electric field? At around 100 km above the surface of Earth we have a layer of charged particles, called the ionosphere    . The ionosphere is responsible for a range of phenomena including the electric field surrounding Earth. In fair weather the ionosphere is positive and the Earth largely negative, maintaining the electric field ( [link] (a)).

In storm conditions clouds form and localized electric fields can be larger and reversed in direction ( [link] (b)). The exact charge distributions depend on the local conditions, and variations of [link] (b) are possible.

If the electric field is sufficiently large, the insulating properties of the surrounding material break down and it becomes conducting. For air this occurs at around 3 × 10 6 size 12{3 times "10" rSup { size 8{6} } } {} N/C. Air ionizes ions and electrons recombine, and we get discharge in the form of lightning sparks and corona discharge.

In part a, a child is flying a kite with two men in an open field on a bright sunny day. In part b, lightning appears over a body of water in stormy weather.
Earth’s electric field. (a) Fair weather field. Earth and the ionosphere (a layer of charged particles) are both conductors. They produce a uniform electric field of about 150 N/C. (credit: D. H. Parks) (b) Storm fields. In the presence of storm clouds, the local electric fields can be larger. At very high fields, the insulating properties of the air break down and lightning can occur. (credit: Jan-Joost Verhoef)

Electric fields on uneven surfaces

So far we have considered excess charges on a smooth, symmetrical conductor surface. What happens if a conductor has sharp corners or is pointed? Excess charges on a nonuniform conductor become concentrated at the sharpest points. Additionally, excess charge may move on or off the conductor at the sharpest points.

Questions & Answers

is the ability to do work
Adjah Reply
what is energy
Mercy Reply
what is vector
mosco Reply
A quantity that has both magnitude and direction
Donaldo
can a body with out mass float in space
mosco
Is the quantity that has both magnitude and direction
Amoah
Yes it can float in space,e.g.polyethene has no mass that's why it can float in space
Amoah
that's my suggestion,any other explanation can be given also,thanks
Amoah
A charge of 1.6*10^-6C is placed in a uniform electric field in a density 2*5^10Nc^-1, what is the magnitude of the electric force exerted on the charge?
Omotosho Reply
what's phenomena
Enoch Reply
Phenomena is an observable fact or event.
Love
Prove that 1/d+1/v=1/f
James Reply
What interference
Moyinoluwa Reply
What is a polarized light called?
Moyinoluwa
what is a half life
Mama Reply
the time taken for a radioactive element to decay by half of its original mass
ken
what is radioactive element
mohammed
Half of the total time required by a radioactive nuclear atom to totally disintegrate
Justice
radioactive elements are those with unstable nuclei(ie have protons more than neutrons, or neutrons more than protons
Justice
in other words, the radioactive atom or elements have unequal number of protons to neutrons.
Justice
state the laws of refraction
Fabian
state laws of reflection
Fabian
Why does a bicycle rider bends towards the corner when is turning?
Mac
When do we say that the stone thrown vertically up wards accelerate negatively?
Mac
Give two importance of insulator placed between plates of a capacitor.
Mac
Macho had a shoe with a big sole moving in mudy Road, shanitah had a shoe with a small sole. Give reasons for those two cases.
Mac
when was the name taken from
Biola Reply
retardation of a car
Biola
when was the name retardation taken
Biola
did you mean a motion with velocity decreases uniformly by the time? then, the vector acceleration is opposite direction with vector velocity
Sphere
what's velocity
mosco
Velocity is the rate of change of displacement
Divya
Atomic transmutation
Basirat Reply
An atom is the smallest indivisible particular of an element
mosco Reply
what is an atomic
Awene Reply
reference on periodic table
Titus Reply
what Is resonance?
Mozam Reply
phenomena of increasing amplitude from normal position of a substance due to some external source.
akif
What is a black body
Amey Reply
Black body is the ideal body can absorb and emit all radiation
Ahmed
the emissivity of black body is 1. it is a perfect absorber and emitter of heat.
Busayo
Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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