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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

what is torque
Deepak Reply
The turning effect of force is called torque.
Uzair
what there factors affect the surface tension of a liquid
Promise Reply
formula for impedance
muyiwa Reply
ehat is central forces
Nita Reply
what is distance?
Jonathan Reply
What does mean ohms law imply
Victoria Reply
ohms law state that the electricity passing through a metallic conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference across its end
muyiwa
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folajin Reply
Anything that occupies space
Kevin
Any thing that has weight and occupies space
Victoria
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Suraj
Right
Roben
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Suraj
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Alo
any answers
Alo
the time rate of increase in velocity is called
Blessing Reply
acceleration
Emma
What is uniform velocity
Victoria
Greetings,users of that wonderful app.
Frank Reply
how to solve pressure?
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Cruz
P=F/A
Mira
can someone derive the formula a little bit deeper?
Bern
what is coplanar force?
OLADITI Reply
forces acting and lying on d same plane
Promise
what is accuracy and precision
Peace Reply
How does a current follow?
Vineeta Reply
follow?
akif
which one dc or ac current.
akif
how does a current following?
Vineeta
?
akif
AC current
Vineeta
AC current follows due to changing electric field and magnetic field.
akif
you guys are just saying follow is flow not follow please
Abubakar
ok bro thanks
akif
flows
Abubakar
but i wanted to understand him/her in his own language
akif
but I think the statement is written in English not any other language
Abubakar
my mean that in which form he/she written this,will understand better in this form, i write.
akif
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Abubakar
ok thanks bro. my mistake
Vineeta
u are welcome
Abubakar
what is a semiconductor
Vineeta Reply
substances having lower forbidden gap between valence band and conduction band
akif
what is a conductor?
Vineeta
replace lower by higher only
akif
convert 56°c to kelvin
Abubakar
How does a current follow?
Vineeta
A semiconductor is any material whose conduction lies between that of a conductor and an insulator.
AKOWUAH
what is Atom? what is molecules? what is ions?
Abubakar Reply
atoms are the smallest unit of an element which is capable of behaving as a single unit
Promise
a molecule is d smallest unit of a substances capable of independent existence and can also retain the chemical proper ties of that substance
Promise
an ion is referred to as freely moving charged particles
Promise
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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