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We use electric field lines to visualize and analyze electric fields (the lines are a pictorial tool, not a physical entity in themselves). The properties of electric field lines for any charge distribution can be summarized as follows:

  1. Field lines must begin on positive charges and terminate on negative charges, or at infinity in the hypothetical case of isolated charges.
  2. The number of field lines leaving a positive charge or entering a negative charge is proportional to the magnitude of the charge.
  3. The strength of the field is proportional to the closeness of the field lines—more precisely, it is proportional to the number of lines per unit area perpendicular to the lines.
  4. The direction of the electric field is tangent to the field line at any point in space.
  5. Field lines can never cross.

The last property means that the field is unique at any point. The field line represents the direction of the field; so if they crossed, the field would have two directions at that location (an impossibility if the field is unique).

Phet explorations: charges and fields

Move point charges around on the playing field and then view the electric field, voltages, equipotential lines, and more. It's colorful, it's dynamic, it's free.

Charges and Fields

Section summary

  • Drawings of electric field lines are useful visual tools. The properties of electric field lines for any charge distribution are that:
  • Field lines must begin on positive charges and terminate on negative charges, or at infinity in the hypothetical case of isolated charges.
  • The number of field lines leaving a positive charge or entering a negative charge is proportional to the magnitude of the charge.
  • The strength of the field is proportional to the closeness of the field lines—more precisely, it is proportional to the number of lines per unit area perpendicular to the lines.
  • The direction of the electric field is tangent to the field line at any point in space.
  • Field lines can never cross.

Conceptual questions

Compare and contrast the Coulomb force field and the electric field. To do this, make a list of five properties for the Coulomb force field analogous to the five properties listed for electric field lines. Compare each item in your list of Coulomb force field properties with those of the electric field—are they the same or different? (For example, electric field lines cannot cross. Is the same true for Coulomb field lines?)

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[link] shows an electric field extending over three regions, labeled I, II, and III. Answer the following questions. (a) Are there any isolated charges? If so, in what region and what are their signs? (b) Where is the field strongest? (c) Where is it weakest? (d) Where is the field the most uniform?

Five field lines represented by long arrows horizontally from left to right are shown. Two arrows diverge from other three, one arrow runs straight toward right and two arrows end abruptly.
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Problem exercises

(a) Sketch the electric field lines near a point charge + q . (b) Do the same for a point charge –3.00 q .

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Sketch the electric field lines a long distance from the charge distributions shown in [link] (a) and (b)

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[link] shows the electric field lines near two charges q 1 size 12{q rSub { size 8{1} } } {} and q 2 size 12{q rSub { size 8{2} } } {} . What is the ratio of their magnitudes? (b) Sketch the electric field lines a long distance from the charges shown in the figure.

Field lines between a positive and a negative charge represented by curved lines is shown
The electric field near two charges.
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Sketch the electric field lines in the vicinity of two opposite charges, where the negative charge is three times greater in magnitude than the positive. (See [link] for a similar situation).

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Questions & Answers

how lesers can transmit information
mitul Reply
griffts bridge derivative
Ganesh Reply
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please explain; when a glass rod is rubbed with silk, it becomes positive and the silk becomes negative- yet both attracts dust. does dust have third types of charge that is attracted to both positive and negative
Timothy Reply
what is a conductor
Timothy
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Timothy
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Timothy
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Mbutene
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Stephen
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CT scanners do not detect details smaller than about 0.5 mm. Is this limitation due to the wavelength of x rays? Explain.
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Mahmud Reply
The Critical Angle Derivation So the critical angle is defined as the angle of incidence that provides an angle of refraction of 90-degrees. Make particular note that the critical angle is an angle of incidence value. For the water-air boundary, the critical angle is 48.6-degrees.
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Chidalu
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Temiloluwa
the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a standard, usually water for a liquid or solid, and air for a gas.
Chidalu
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aliyu Reply
mass ×velocity
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it is the product of mass ×velocity of an object
Chidalu
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Oyinlusi Reply
Instantaneous velocity is defined as the rate of change of position for a time interval which is almost equal to zero
Astronomy
The potential in a region between x= 0 and x = 6.00 m lis V= a+ bx, where a = 10.0 V and b = -7.00 V/m. Determine (a) the potential atx=0, 3.00 m, and 6.00 m and (b) the magnitude and direction of the electric ficld at x =0, 3.00 m, and 6.00 m.
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Victor Reply
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Claudia
Practice Key Terms 4

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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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