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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 the difference between a principle and a law
the law is universally proved. The principal depends on certain conditions.
Dr
state Faraday first law
aliyu Reply
it states that mass of an element deposited during electrolysis is directly proportional to the quantity of electricity discharge
Olamide
what does the speedometer of a car measure ?
Jyoti Reply
Car speedometer measures the rate of change of distance per unit time.
Moses
describe how a Michelson interferometer can be used to measure the index of refraction of a gas (including air)
WILLIAM Reply
using the law of reflection explain how powder takes the shine off a person's nose. what is the name of the optical effect?
WILLIAM
is higher resolution of microscope using red or blue light?.explain
WILLIAM
what is dimensional consistent
Mohammed
In engineering and science, dimensional analysis is the analysis of the relationships between different physical quantities by identifying their base quantities and units of measure and tracking these dimensions as calculations or comparisons are performed
syed
can sound wave in air be polarized?
WILLIAM Reply
Unlike transverse waves such as electromagnetic waves, longitudinal waves such as sound waves cannot be polarized. ... Since sound waves vibrate along their direction of propagation, they cannot be polarized
Astronomy
A proton moves at 7.50×107m/s perpendicular to a magnetic field. The field causes the proton to travel in a circular path of radius 0.800 m. What is the field strength?
Celedonio Reply
derived dimenionsal formula
Ajak Reply
what is the difference between mass and weight
Isru Reply
assume that a boy was born when his father was eighteen years.if the boy is thirteen years old now, how is his father in
Isru
31yrs
Olamide
what is head-on collision
Javaid Reply
what is airflow
Godswill Reply
derivative of first differential equation
Haruna Reply
why static friction is greater than Kinetic friction
Ali Reply
draw magnetic field pattern for two wire carrying current in the same direction
Ven Reply
An American traveler in New Zealand carries a transformer to convert New Zealand’s standard 240 V to 120 V so that she can use some small appliances on her trip.
nkombo Reply
What is the ratio of turns in the primary and secondary coils of her transformer?
nkombo
what is energy
Yusuf
How electric lines and equipotential surface are mutually perpendicular?
Abid Reply
The potential difference between any two points on the surface is zero that implies È.Ŕ=0, Where R is the distance between two different points &E= Electric field intensity. From which we have cos þ =0, where þ is the angle between the directions of field and distance line, as E andR are zero. Thus
MAHADEV
sorry..E and R are non zero...
MAHADEV
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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