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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • State Gauss’s law
  • Explain the conditions under which Gauss’s law may be used
  • Apply Gauss’s law in appropriate systems

We can now determine the electric flux through an arbitrary closed surface due to an arbitrary charge distribution. We found that if a closed surface does not have any charge inside where an electric field line can terminate, then any electric field line entering the surface at one point must necessarily exit at some other point of the surface. Therefore, if a closed surface does not have any charges inside the enclosed volume, then the electric flux through the surface is zero. Now, what happens to the electric flux if there are some charges inside the enclosed volume? Gauss’s law gives a quantitative answer to this question.

To get a feel for what to expect, let’s calculate the electric flux through a spherical surface around a positive point charge q , since we already know the electric field in such a situation. Recall that when we place the point charge at the origin of a coordinate system, the electric field at a point P that is at a distance r from the charge at the origin is given by

E P = 1 4 π ε 0 1 r 2 r ^ ,

where r ^ is the radial vector from the charge at the origin to the point P. We can use this electric field to find the flux through the spherical surface of radius r , as shown in [link] .

A sphere labeled S with radius R is shown. At its center, is a small circle with a plus sign, labeled q. A small patch on the sphere is labeled dA. Two arrows point outward from here, perpendicular to the surface of the sphere. The smaller arrow is labeled n hat equal to r hat. The longer arrow is labeled vector E.
A closed spherical surface surrounding a point charge q .

Then we apply Φ = S E · n ^ d A to this system and substitute known values. On the sphere, n ^ = r ^ and r = R , so for an infinitesimal area dA ,

d Φ = E · n ^ d A = 1 4 π ε 0 q R 2 r ^ · r ^ d A = 1 4 π ε 0 q R 2 d A .

We now find the net flux by integrating this flux over the surface of the sphere:

Φ = 1 4 π ε 0 q R 2 S d A = 1 4 π ε 0 q R 2 ( 4 π R 2 ) = q ε 0 .

where the total surface area of the spherical surface is 4 π R 2 . This gives the flux through the closed spherical surface at radius r as

Φ = q ε 0 .

A remarkable fact about this equation is that the flux is independent of the size of the spherical surface. This can be directly attributed to the fact that the electric field of a point charge decreases as 1 / r 2 with distance, which just cancels the r 2 rate of increase of the surface area.

Electric field lines picture

An alternative way to see why the flux through a closed spherical surface is independent of the radius of the surface is to look at the electric field lines. Note that every field line from q that pierces the surface at radius R 1 also pierces the surface at R 2 ( [link] ).

Figure shows three concentric circles. The smallest one at the center is labeled q, the middle one has radius R1 and the largest one has radius R2. Eight arrows radiate outward from the center in all eight directions.
Flux through spherical surfaces of radii R 1 and R 2 enclosing a charge q are equal, independent of the size of the surface, since all E -field lines that pierce one surface from the inside to outside direction also pierce the other surface in the same direction.

Therefore, the net number of electric field lines passing through the two surfaces from the inside to outside direction is equal. This net number of electric field lines, which is obtained by subtracting the number of lines in the direction from outside to inside from the number of lines in the direction from inside to outside gives a visual measure of the electric flux through the surfaces.

Questions & Answers

Why does the lines of force not touch each other 🇲🇲
Gbemisola Reply
what is unit
Rayyanu Reply
Please canu get more questions on electric field and electric flux please
is electric field directly proportional to the squared of a distance
Benjamin Reply
No electric field is inversely proportional to the squared distance between the charges
lets treat linear expansivity please
Ujah Reply
The bullet 2.00cm long is fired at 420/s and passes straight through a 10.0 cm thick board existing at 280 m/s.What is the average acceleration of the bullet through the board?
an unstretched spring is 12cm long .A load of 5N stretched it to 15cm .how long will it be under a load of 15N?
Benjamin how are u are u a freshman in the university
like 100 level
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am from Ghana
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Compare the electric flux through the surface of a cube of side length a that has a charge q at its center to the flux through a spherical surface of radius a with a charge q at its center.
Shari Reply
please I want to know how to solve increase in length
Why a charged capacitor has potential difference but not emf
Gideon Reply
what is the dimension symbol of temperature?
Keren Reply
what is the dimension symbol of temperature?
what's the meaning of enthalpy in terms of latent heat, internal energy, phase change
Anthony Reply
Enthalpy is the degree ofdisorderlinessof a substance
how to convert Kelvin to centigrade
Sangeetha Reply
what is the s, p, d, f in this table
s, p, d, f in this table
what kind of table this
Periodic table
what are waves
In physics, mathematics, and related fields, a wave is a propagating dynamic disturbance (change from equilibrium) of one or more quantities
Discuss how would orient a planar surface of area A in a uniform electric field of magnitude E0 to obtain (a) the maximum flux and (b) the minimum flux through the area.
I'm just doing the first 3 with this message. but thankyou for the time your obviously intending to support us with. viva la accumulation
Find the net capacitance of the combination of series and parallel capacitors shown belo
jean Reply
what is ohm?
Sharafat Reply
calculate ideal gas pressure of 0.300mol,v=2L T=40°c
Viola Reply
what is principle of superposition
Jyoti Reply
Practice Key Terms 1

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 2. OpenStax CNX. Oct 06, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12074/1.3
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