Preface:
Olympiad was not a goal but a mean for me to study physics! However They have
again trampled my life by what they did to me about not accepting me for the second level
exam but I am not really upset of what they did however because it wasn’t their first time and
I am sure it won’t be their last time!
I am not going to give you the story of my life or to complain about Olympiad but I
want just to explain how the idea of this article was inspired to me. I studied physics in a
different way. By this I mean the point of view and depth of my studying. In the broad range
of physics categories I enjoy one part much more than the other parts and it is
Electrodynamics. Electrodynamics, to me, is the most beautiful part of classical physics and I
always overjoyed by thinking and studying about it. And this article is one of the productions
of my mind after many hours of thinking. Here it is:
M. Mehrizi Sani
Contents
A definition 2
The essence of induced charges 3
Some consequences of induction 4
Electrostatic separators 5
Not grounded! 7
Finite sections and independency of
charge densities 9
Another problem 11
Epilogue 13
A definition:
2
charges? You might answer the total charges on the sphere! But no! We just call those
charges which displaced from the side closer to q ' , to its opposite side! If it looks strange
for you simply suppose that we hadn’t put the external charge q on the sphere. Then we did
the same thing and then ask yourself what are the induced charges? In fact when we use the
term “induced” we mean exactly the charges which are located at their position because of
external act of charges.
However in high school books we might just declare induced charges in some other
ways, that is connecting the conducting material to earth and after we brought some external
charges disconnecting it! This definition is correct but it is incomplete. In fact our problems
involving induced charges can be classified in two groups: Problems in which our conducting
section is
1. connected to the earth
2. not connected to the earth
Here earth plays an unbelievable important rule. As you will see solving the problems which
their conducting section is not connected to the earth are usually harder than the other types.
After saying all these, one important thing is left! Why do really some charges are
induced when we bring some external charge q. Forgetting the reasoning given in most of
high school physics book the reason is just the fact that electric fields inside the conductors
are always zero (In electrostatic conditions)*. And why should do they be zero? Here the trick
is in hands of conductors!
When we say a conducting material we
mean that material has free electrons which
they can move freely in the conductor. And
the force we need to make them start traveling E
is infinitesimal. Now suppose the electric field
inside the conductor is not zero. As a e F
consequence there will be a force due to this
electric field on a free electron: F eE and e F
so electron will move. This electron will be
displaced due to this force and will be placed e F
at the surface of the conductor in a way which
lessens the outer charges effect inside the
conductor. These movements will continue to
make the electric field inside the conductor
zero.
In this illustration I showed just a
scheme of what would happen and electric
field is somehow constant. But if it were not constant the same thing happens but the analysis
of how charges will distribute themselves over the surface of conductor is a little harder.
*
By electrostatic condition we mean the problems which charges are stationary and they don’t have a
continuous motion.
3
In fact conductors are genius physicist and they intelligently distribute charges over
their surface to vanish the electric field inside themselves.
This distribution has some consequences which I just name them (which they are all
apparent)
1. The potential difference between each two point of the conductor is zero.
2. The surface of the conductor is an equipotential surface.
3. Electric field lines are normal to the surface of conductor. †
4. Electric field just at the surface of conductor is E ‡
0
V
5. The charge density at the surface of conductors can be deduced by 0
n
V
which V is the potential and n is the normal vector at the surface. And means
n
derivative of V with respect to n.
6. The electrostatic pressure at the surface of the conductor due to induced charges is
0
P E2
2
The last result needs some explanation. You can check it’s derivation in the book
“Introduction to Electrodynamics” § on pages 102,103. Here I don’t want to derive it again
but just to give a physical Idea about how tricky the idea is!
Electrostatic pressure on the surface of conductor is defined to be the force exerted on
a q0 (an induced or placed charge at the surface of conductor) divided by the area a which
Fq
contains this charge. And in precise manner it is P lim 0 . Now suppose we want to
a 0 a
derive it by the property 4 I mentioned before. For an enough small surface a we can consider
the to be constant and conclude that q 0 a and seeing that
Fq q E
P lim 0 lim 0 0 E 2
a 0 a a 0 a
In which q 0 is substituted by 0 aE . But it is double of what I mentioned in property
6! Why? Students always do such this calculation in different problems and when they
contrast with answer of the problem they fell awkward!
What we neglected in our calculation plays a very important rule. We decided to
calculate the force exerted on an infinitesimal charge by multiplying the amount of charge to
the electric field we calculated at the place of charge as the result of all other charges and that
infinitesimal charge itself! The trick is a very simple fact: An electron can’t exert an
electrostatic force to itself. With an everyday life terminology you can’t kiss you own cheek!!
†
The number 2,3 can be deduced from each other by considering the relation of
‡
This can be deduced by drawing a Gaussian surface at the surface of conductor and applying the gauss law for
it by considering the fact that electric field and consequently electric field for interior faces of Gaussian surface
is zero.
§
By D. J. Griffiths, Reed College, Prentice Hall, 2nd Ed.
4
That is if we want to calculate the force exerted on the q, we have to be serious about what
electric field q really sustain.
The factor ½ which appears in the electrostatic pressure strength is responsible for this
fact. It means the electric field due to all other charges (in universe) except the differential
amount of charge at a definite point of surface of a conductor is one half of the electric field
due to all other charges plus that differential charge at that point! Please pay attention that in
q0 E
lim we substitute q 0 by 0 aE but we substitute E by E/2. And again we reach the same
a 0 a
amount as I mentioned before.
Understanding this fact that half of the electric field at the surface of a conductor is
due to every charges in whole universe and another half is due to the charge at the surface
itself might be difficult! But this point is crucial for a deep and conceptual understanding of
the physics of conductors! It is worth mentioning that this ½ factor appeared here is in the
same essence with ½ factors which appears in the electrical energy stored in capacitors
Q2
U 1 2 CV 2 1 2 (How?) You might object how this can be true? For example by saying:
C
“We place some new charges some where else than the conductor. As a result the electric
field strength due to all other charges except the charges at the point of surface itself will
change and so this ½ factor must change!?” The answer is No, because as the surface charge
density of a conductor is a function of these charges, Conductor will add or subtract some
charges wherever his things needed to sustain the ratio ½.
This electrostatic pressure exerted on the charges must be answered by the conductor
and as a result conductors (or even insulators) feel a pushing out force which tend them to
bend or reshape themselves. As a practical experiment you can put enough charge on a
metallic coated balloon which tend it to get bigger.
Up to now everything I said was about the general concepts of Induced charges. Now
let us consider some of the problems which can give us a deeper understanding of these
concepts:
Electrostatic separators:
Remember this usual classic image
problem: suppose a charge q is placed a distance
d from an infinite grounded conducting sheet of
negligible thickness. You can find out this
problem as the first example of the books and
references for the method of image in -q q
electrostatics.
To find the solution lets first consider
the original problem and inspect it a bit more
than what is available in books! As the potential
at the conductor sheet is zero we can satisfy this y
condition by putting our image charge at the x
mirrored point of our charge q relative to the
z
sheet. And in this way we can find the potential
5
in the space to the right of the surface (According to this illustration) just by adding up the
potential due to real q and imaginary charge -q. supposing q to be positive, in fact q induces
some negative charges on the right face of conductor and it distributes these charges in a way
to make the electric field inside itself zero and it will send the residue of positive charges to
earth! That is we have just induced charges on the right surface.
Some conceptual points are good to be considered. First as you have seen we are
asked to find just the potential in the space right to the conductor that is where our real charge
is placed! And if q is at (d, 0, 0) then we can express the potential as:
q 1 1
V ( x, y , z )
4 0 ( x d ) 2 y 2 z 2 2
(x d ) y z
2 2
But this potential is just hold for x>0. That is we divided the world into two semi-worlds.
One is real and the second is imaginary. In all of the image problems this occurs. You can’t
find a counter example for this comment. In some problems, somehow, we divide the world
into three pieces. For instant if we place a charge q somewhere between two infinite
grounded conductor sheets. If we asked to find the electric field or potential for this
configuration we can just write the equations for the potential of needed image charges for
the space between two conductor sheets.
The electric field at places of space our real charge is not located is zero everywhere.
In fact conductors act as an “electrostatic separator”**! That is this infinite conducting sheet
makes the electric field due to one side vanishes for the other side! It is not important what
the distribution of charges at the right of the figure is. The person standing at the left world
does not feel anything about the other side’s electrostatic configuration!
For example suppose a metallic spherical shell! A person in the interior region doesn’t
know about out and vise versa.
If these conductors were of the zero resistivity they are not only “electrostatic
separators” but also “Electrodynamic separators” It means they also makes the magnetic
fields stop traveling from one side to the other! To understand how; suppose we have a
magnet in front of our infinite sheet now we move it toward the sheet. Now a question: “does
a person on the other side feel any changes in the magnetic field?” The answer is No! When
we move the magnet toward (or backward) the sheet a change in the magnetic flux occur at
the surface of conductor and according to faraday’s law of induction an electric field is
appear and after considering everything a circular current is made and this circular current
vanishes the changes of the magnetic field due to displacing of the magnet! If you are not
sure about it write the equations and figure out these two changes are exactly the same!
Anyway, let’s come back to our induced charges. Please understand the duty of
induced charges in electrostatic separators. We do not feel anything about the charge
configurations at our opposite side because the induced charges were placed with a
configuration to exactly balance every charges effect on the other side! And the earth is
crucial for this effect. Because conductor borrows charges, as many as needed, from the
earth. At the first look the mathematical proof of this claim looks complex but you can justify
it by superposition. That is we can express all the charges on one side with their position and
the total induced charges density in the form:
q , x , y , z ,
i i i i i (r ) (where r z 2 y 2 at x=0)
**
I haven’t seen this combination being used elsewhere. If you seen it before please contact me where?!
6
It says for each of these charges qi , xi , y i , z i we have i (r ) which makes the electric field
for the other side zero. So the sum of all these charges makes the electric field zero at that
side. For other configuration of conductors the same thing can be concluded, For instance for
a spherical metallic shell we can replace r z 2 y 2 by r z 2 y 2 x 2 and other
things are the same.
Not grounded!
This time suppose that the sheet is not grounded! Now find the induced charges over
the conductor surface?
As I previously said earth plays an unbelievable rule here. If the earth is omitted from
our problem we can not talk about electrostatic separators in such a great detail. This problem
is something definitely new and it is different from what is available in books. Now I am just
going to give you the solution. It is up to you to figure out why really this happens!
Suppose we calculated the charge density for the previous problem (grounded) to be
G (r ) (G stands for grounded). If we half this charge density it will give us the new charge
density for our problem! And in contrast this time we also have a charge density for the left
surface of sheet. And that is equal (in magnitude) to the front charge density but with
different sign.
The first thing to mention is that total charge of the conductor is zero as the front and
back charge densities are opposite and equal. Please carefully pay attention to my reasoning
and see how conceptual it. First suppose half of charge q at its position and forget about
another part. By method of image we can guarantee that electric field would be zero inside
the conductor by having front (r ) 1 2 G (r ) . Now suppose instead of putting this charge
density at the front side, we put it at the other side but this time with different
sign back (r ) 1 2 G (r ) . Of course my own reason to give such a configuration, when for
the first time I solved it, was just symmetry but after some thinking I devised an explanation
based on the concept of electric flux. Unfortunately I can’t give it here as I posted it to TPT
(The Physics Teacher) and it is to be published by them! But I am going to explain it roughly.
The point is that the opposite charge density at another face in combination with the first
doubles their effect in the conductor. Suppose if we had q/2 instead of q we can guarantee
that just 1 2 G (r ) at the front side satisfy the boundary conditions.
Now suppose instead of the charge density I presented for the problem we have
front (r ) G (r ) and for back we have back (r ) 0 . Does this configuration satisfy our
boundary condition? The first thing you might mention is that the total charge on the sheet is
not zero! That is we have the total amount of q at the front side but no charge at the back side
and accordingly this configuration cannot be the correct configuration! But we know (From
the method of image) that the front charge density makes the electric field inside the
conductor zero.
But let me explain this configuration in a different way. Yes we have total charge q at
the front. Now we have to have the same amount of charge with opposite sign at back. Now I
q
can distribute this –q with a constant surface charge density that is back (r ) in which a
atotal
total means the area of our sheet! Now evaluating it by considering that the area of our sheet
7
q
is infinite we find back 0 . So with this exploration we might say this is also a
satisfactory charge density for this problem! And here it means we have two possible
different charge configurations for one boundary condition which is in contrary with
uniqueness theorem!†† As a precise mathematical proof of uniqueness theorem is available it
can not be wrong at all. So one of our solutions must have been intrigued. And I am here to
say the second one is the tricky one!
When we talk precisely (Physically or mathematically) we cannot express any value
as . It means we cannot substitute atotal with and concluding back 0 but instead we
have to say it in this way:
q
back lim 0
atotal a total
Not a game! These are definitely different! The first on means an exact charge density
of zero which if it is multiplied by any area to give the total charge on the area it gives us
precisely no charge! But the second means the charge density approaches zero but not being
exactly zero! And now how this can eliminate the second solution? In one sentence the
second definition means a dynamic condition of charges that is they are in motion not a static
condition and it contrary our presumed electrostatic condition. In more than one sentence it
means (according to second solution)
when we abruptly put a charge q +-
(suppose it is positive) in front of our
infinite conducting sheet it attract
negative charges and arrange them at
the front side with G (r ) we +-
previously defined. As result a sudden
lack of these negative charges at the
back side make a simultaneous and
+- q
transient G (r ) charge density at the
back of the sheet. Then now the limit +-
definition of back face of the sheet
+-
means from this time charges escape
from each other with the greatest
possible speed to reach the charge
density 0. But they never reach. If they +-
would it meant they can reach infinity
which is meaningless. So charges are
always in motion to approach infinity
and it is the point which contradicts our +-
principles of electrostatics (No charges
in motion).
One thing is left about
††
As here I haven’t prove the first configuration and I just refer it to my manuscript at Physics Teacher you
might claim you can just accept the second configuration which is easier to understand and also it is closer
solution to the problem with grounded sheet. The first thing I can say is to continue the article and see how this
configuration can not be a electrostatic solution and then I offer you to check my manuscript at Physics Teacher
Journal of Physics.
8
uniqueness theorem. The preceding explanation of why the second solution is fault did not
revealed why uniqueness theorem is not valid! In fact uniqueness theorem is valid. It says
there is just one electrostatic charge distribution for uniquely defined boundaries! It does not
guarantee or prove an electrostatic condition would occur at all! Here we said that
configuration (with an exact zero charge density at the back) does not occur at all! If it
happened then the uniqueness theorem would be wrong which hopefully it didn’t.
In contrast to electrostatic separators if a person stand to the left of the sheet and q is
to the right, far from the sheet person feel the charge q effects as if there were no sheet! And
also in the grounded sheet problem if a person stands the same side as the q is and go far
away from it he feel if there were a dipole at the position of q. that is an electric dipole which
one of its charges is q and another one is its image. But in not grounded sheet problem we
feel electric fields due to q and many little dipoles due to positive and negative charges
induced at the conductor. As we presumed with of sheet is negligible and so these dipoles are
of negligible moment for far from the sheet.
9
a
Now let’s write the potential at this area.
We can consider charges distributed over the sheet
to act as little electric dipoles. This is because the charge
density of front side is equal to back. Now considering a
simple dipole which its positive charge is at one side of the + -
sheet and negative at another we can write its potential at
(x,y,z) as:
y
qi
Vi ( x, y, z ) x
( xi t x ) ( y i y ) ( z i z )
2 2 2
t z
2
qi
( xi t x ) 2 ( y i y ) 2 ( z i z ) 2
2
Where indices i indicates the inth charge potential and position coordinates. Now we
can write:
V V Vdue to a Vdue to a V ( x, y, z )
a 0 0 0 Vi ( x, y, z ) 0 i
n x x x x x
Vi ( x, y, z )
And evaluating can reach us to result that is:
x
Vi ( x, y, z ) qi ( xi t x) qi ( xi t x)
2 2
x
3 3
( xi t x) 2 ( y i y ) 2 ( z i z ) 2 2 ( xi t x) 2 ( y i y ) 2 ( z i z ) 2 2
2 2
Now supposing t (the sheet thickness) can be replaced by zero we
V ( x, y, z )
conclude i 0 and then finding the charges density to be
x
Vdue to a
a 0 which shows the fact that the charge density at any surface is
x
independent of the other charges at locations else than itself. This means elimination of
remaining of the sheet does not alter the charge density at a.
The same thing can be done for the grounded part but we have to consider the
connection of the cut piece to the earth to able us having nonzero total charge. But please pay
attention to the necessity of thickness to be negligible. For else, this result is wrong and also
theorem in general is not valid.
I again insist on the conceptual point of view! In fact whenever a physicist proves
something he previously understood it without proof and just with a common sense they
might gain.
10
Another problem:
Now let me finish by solving another
problem. Consider a charge q placed near a (Not
grounded) spherical conducting shell. Find the
surface charge density for the shell and potential q q
every where.
For the solution we do as we did in
previous examples. First we solve for the case it is
grounded and then finding a trick to appropriate it
for not grounded case. As we have studied before
R R
an image charge q q at d R from the center of sphere makes the potential at the
d d
surface of sphere zero. Writing the potential due to these two charges (the image and real
one) and after some substitution we reach:
q 1 1
V (r , ) 2
4 0 r d 2 2rd cos R 2 (rd ) 2 2rd cos
R
Which here means the angle between the line through the center of sphere and q
and the line through center and any point of space. It is different from usual coordinate in
polar curvilinear system. By this we can find the induced surface charges by take its
derivative with respect to r at R. That is:
V q R2 d 2
( ) 0 3
r 4 2 2
( R d 2 Rd cos )
2
Having a precise inspection about this charge density, you can see that there is a total
R
charge q q at the outer surface of conductor without any induced charges with the
d
same sign as q. This is because the numerator is always negative as the distance from the
charge to the center is always greater the radius of shell and denominator is always positive.
Now the problem is the fact when we omit the earth from the problem a lack of knowledge
about the potential of shell arises. That is we know all the shell is at a unique potential V0 but
this potential itself is unknown. Looking wisely through the problem instead we know
something which fills our lack of knowledge about the potential of shell. This something is
that we know the total charge at the sphere is zero. But how can this lead us to a solution?
Again by using the image method. What image charge should be placed where? We
can strictly claim if there were any it would be inside of the spherical shell for else it is in real
world and it is in contrary with the idea I have previously discussed at electrostatic separator
about the real and imaginary electrostatics world. If we inspect a little we can figure out
(Strongly by your intuition) that placing a second image charge q at the center of the sphere
can give us any potential we need at the surface of sphere. As you can calculate their relation
is
q 4 0V0 R
11
We do not know what the V0 is but we know q 0 must be so to induce charges as
much as needed to make a zero sum with the charges q previously induced. The amount of
charges each image charge induces at the conductor surface is exactly equal to themselves.
r
Now this lead to say q q or q q . And writing the new potential and new surface
d
charge density we have:
q 1 1 R
V (r , )
4 0 r 2 d 2 2rd cos R 2 (rd ) 2 2rd cos d r
R
V q R2 d 2 q
( ) 0 3
r 4R 2 2
4Rd
( R d 2 Rd cos )
2
2
R d
2 2
1 R d (R d d )
2 2 2 3 3
3
cos
( R 2 d 2 2 Rd cos ) 2 d 2 Rd
In fact at this angle the surface charge density come to zero and this means it changes
sign.
The last thing is to say the value of the potential at the surface of shell which it is just
due to second image charge:
q 1
V0
4 0 d
Please notice this is the potential which due to q at the center of shell if it were not
present! In general this is a special case of a more general problem which is to be derived
from Laplace equation. This theorem says that the average potential at the surface of a sphere
Qenc
in space is the potential at its center plus an amount in which R is the radius of that
4 0 R
sphere. In the form of notations:
Q
Vave Vcenter enc
4 0 R
12
Epilogue:
As a final word it is important to get the idea of the whole paper. I didn’t want to just
give some solution for some special problems. The methods I mentioned were each can be
used for many different problems and each one can be general way of solving problems
involving the induced charges. Please also understand the physics and essence of induced
charges which was my duty at the first sections of the paper. However we would never gain a
deep understanding till we think and inspect the problems with a physical point of view for
else for the problem I mentioned all have a barely mathematical solution that is to solve the
Laplace’s equation for their boundaries. I’ve just wanted to give a physical essence of what
happens when conductors are being in the external electric fields.
Anyway I hope you will support me with your ideas and also problems involving the
subject at mahdi_alone@yahoo.com .
Just about references which I’ve been asked to give I have to say there weren’t any
verbatim quote from any book. These ideas were get in my mind just when I was (am)
studying electricity and electrodynamics. Anyway, if by references we mean the books who
thought me electricity I can presents the followings:
1. Physics ,By David Halliday ,Krane, Resnick (An introductory physics book)
2. Introduction to electrodynamics, By David J. Griffiths, Reed College; 2ed.
3. Problems in general Physics, By I.E. Irodov (Just a book with hard problems!!)
M. Mehrizi Sani
13
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