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Gauss’s Law Examples

Question 1:

A rectangle with an area of 7 𝑚2 is placed in a uniform electric field of magnitude 580 𝑁⁄𝐶 .
What is the electric flux through the surface when its face is a.) perpendicular to the field lines,
b.) at 45° to the field lines, c.) parallel to the field lines.
Solution 1:
The figure below illustrates all three scenarios.

𝟗𝟎°
𝒅𝑨 𝑬 𝜽 = 𝟒𝟓°
𝑬
𝑬 𝒅𝑨 𝑬 𝐜𝐨𝐬 𝜽 𝒅𝑨

The equation for the electric flux is as follows:

Φ = ∫ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨
𝑆

Therefore, the three cases are:


a b c

Φ = ∫ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨 Φ = ∫ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨 Φ = ∫ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨
𝑆 𝑆 𝑆

Φ = ∫ 𝐸 cos 0 𝑑𝐴 Φ = ∫ 𝐸 cos 45 𝑑𝐴 Φ = ∫ 𝐸 cos 90 𝑑𝐴


𝑆 𝑆 𝑆

√2
Φ = 𝐸 ∫ 𝑑𝐴 Φ=𝐸 ∫ 𝑑𝐴 Φ = 𝐸 ∙ 0 ∫ 𝑑𝐴
2
𝑆 𝑆 𝑆
Φ = 𝐸𝐴 𝐸√2𝐴 Φ= 0∙𝐴
Φ = 580 ∙ 7 Φ= Φ = 0 𝑁 ∙ 𝑚2 ⁄𝐶
2
Φ = 4060 𝑁 ∙ 𝑚2 ⁄𝐶 580 ∙ √2 ∙ 7
Φ=
2
Φ = 2871 𝑁 ∙ 𝑚2 ⁄𝐶
Question 2:
Find the electric field at a distance 𝑥 due to an infinitely long straight line of charge with a
uniform charge density of 𝜆 𝐶 ⁄𝑚.

Solution 2:
To demonstrate the usefulness of Gauss’s law lets first solve this problem using Coulomb’s law.
The figure below shows a vertical line of charge and a point at a perpendicular distance 𝑥 from
this line where we would like to compute the electric field.

𝒅𝑸

𝒅𝒚

𝜃 𝐸 cos 𝜃
𝑥 𝜃

𝐸 sin 𝜃 𝑬

𝒅𝒚

We start by choosing a small part of the line which contains a charge of 𝑑𝑄, draw a line to our
point on the 𝑥 axis, and write Coulomb’s law:
𝑘𝑑𝑄
𝑑𝑬 = 𝒓̂
𝑟2
Our next step is to integrate along the entire line to find the total electric field. However, we
first notice that the vertical component of the electric field, 𝐸 sin 𝜃 , points in opposite
directions for points above and below our reference line and therefore will exactly cancel
during the integration. This observation allows us to simplify the vector equation above by
using the horizontal component only.

𝑘𝑑𝑄
𝑑𝐸 = cos 𝜃
𝑟2
cos 𝜃
𝐸 = 𝑘∫ 𝑑𝑄
𝑟2
The integration variable, 𝑄, is not convenient so we re-write using the following relationships.

𝑥 𝑑𝑄 = 𝜆𝑑𝑦 𝑦 = 𝑥 tan 𝜃
𝑟= 𝑥
cos 𝜃 𝑑𝑦 = 𝑑𝜃
cos 2 𝜃

Substituting we have:
cos 2 𝜃 𝜆𝑥
𝐸 = 𝑘 ∫ cos 𝜃 𝑑𝜃
𝑥 2 cos 2 𝜃
𝑘𝜆
𝐸= ∫ cos 𝜃 𝑑𝜃
𝑥

Integrating with respect to 𝜃 now we can add the limits for integration, which for an infinitely
long line of charge are from −90° to 90° .

𝑘𝜆 90
𝐸= ∫ cos 𝜃 𝑑 𝜃
𝑥 −90
𝑘𝜆
𝐸= [sin 90 − sin −90 ]
𝑥
𝑘𝜆
𝐸= [1 + 1]
𝑥
𝜆
𝐸=
2𝜋𝜖𝑜 𝑥

1
Where in the last step we replaced 𝑘 with 4𝜋𝜖 .
𝑜
Now that we suffered through that derivation, let’s try using Gauss’s Law! We first need to
choose a suitable geometrical surface to enclose the line of charge. We would like to choose a
surface so that the electric field is parallel to the surface vector, 𝑑𝐴. As shown below, a
cylinder works best.

Writing Gauss’s law, we have the following:


𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
∮ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨 =
𝜖𝑜
Which can be simplified using the following observations:

• The charge enclosed by the cylinder can be expressed in terms of the charge density as:
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐 = 𝜆ℎ
• The electric field is perpendicular to the top and bottom surface area elements, therefore
there is no flux through these surfaces.
• For the body of the cylinder the electric field is parallel to the surface area elements,
therefore the dot product can be removed.
• The surface area of the body of the cylinder can be expressed as:
∮ 𝑑𝐴 = 2𝜋𝑟ℎ

Continuing with these observations we have:


𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
∮ 𝐸𝑑𝐴 =
𝜖𝑜
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
𝐸 ∮ 𝑑𝐴 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜆ℎ
𝐸2𝜋𝑟ℎ =
𝜖𝑜
𝜆
𝐸=
2𝜋𝑟𝜖𝑜
As you can see this approach saves much effort!
Question 3:
Find the electric field at a perpendicular distance 𝑟 from an infinite, nonconducting sheet with
uniform surface charge density of 𝜎 𝐶 ⁄𝑚2 .

Solution 3:
We again use a cylinder as our Gaussian surface. In this case, however, as shown in the figure
below, there is flux only through the two end surfaces.

+
+
𝐴
+ +
+
𝑬 + 𝑬

+
++
+ +
+

Assuming the two end surfaces have an area of 𝐴, Gauss’s law can be solved as follows:
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
∮ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜎𝐴
𝐸𝐴 + 𝐸𝐴 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜎𝐴
2𝐸𝐴 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜎
𝐸=
2𝜖𝑜

1 1
Note that for a point charge the 𝐸 field drops off as 𝑟 2, for a line of charge it drops off as , and
𝑟
for an infinite plate the 𝐸 field is constant.
Question 4:
Consider a nonconducting long hollow cylinder with an inner radius of 0.01 𝑚 and an outer
radius of 0.05 𝑚. The cylinder has a uniform charge with a charge density, 𝜌, of 2 𝜇𝐶 ⁄𝑚3 .
Find an expression for the electric field for all 𝑟. Find the value of the electric field at 𝑟 =
0.025 𝑚 and 𝑟 = 0.1 𝑚.

𝒓𝒊𝒏
𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒕

Solution 4:
Using a cylinder as our Gaussian surface we have a scenario like question 2 above where the
electric flux is non-zero for the body of the cylinder only.

We consider three different regions.


1. 𝑟 < 𝑟𝑖𝑛
2. 𝑟𝑖𝑛 < 𝑟 < 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡
3. 𝑟 > 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡

𝑹𝒆𝒈𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝟏 𝑹𝒆𝒈𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝟐 𝑹𝒆𝒈𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝟑


𝑮𝒂𝒖𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒂𝒏 𝑺𝒖𝒓𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝑮𝒂𝒖𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒂𝒏 𝑺𝒖𝒓𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆

𝑮𝒂𝒖𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒂𝒏 𝑺𝒖𝒓𝒇𝒂𝒄𝒆

𝒓𝒊𝒏 𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒕


Region 1:
There is no charged enclosed in the Gaussian surface, therefore the electric field is zero.
𝐸=0
Region 2:
We start by writing Gauss’s law and simplifying based on the Gaussian surface chosen.
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
∮ 𝑬 ∙ 𝒅𝑨 =
𝜖𝑜
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
𝐸 ∮ 𝑑𝐴 =
𝜖𝑜
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
𝐸2𝜋𝑟ℎ =
𝜖𝑜
Since the cylinder is nonconducting and the charge is distributed uniformly, the total charge
enclosed by the Gaussian surface is given by:
𝑄𝐸 = 𝜌𝑉𝐸
𝑄𝐸 = 𝜌 𝜋𝑟 2 ℎ − 𝜋𝑟𝑖𝑛 2 ℎ
𝑄𝐸 = 𝜌𝜋ℎ 𝑟 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2

Substituting.
𝜌𝜋ℎ 𝑟 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
𝐸2𝜋𝑟ℎ =
𝜖𝑜
𝜌 𝑟 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
𝐸=
2𝑟𝜖𝑜

Region 3:
We can again start with Gauss’s law using the same simplification as above.
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
𝐸2𝜋𝑟ℎ =
𝜖𝑜

In this case since the whole cylinder is enclosed in the Gaussian surface.

𝑄𝐸 = 𝜌 𝜋𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 2 ℎ − 𝜋𝑟𝑖𝑛 2 ℎ
𝑄𝐸 = 𝜌𝜋ℎ 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
Substituting.
𝜌𝜋ℎ 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
𝐸2𝜋𝑟ℎ =
𝜖𝑜
𝜌 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
2
𝐸=
2𝑟𝜖𝑜

To express the electric field for all regions we can use a piecewise definition as follows:
0, 𝑟 ≤ 𝑟𝑖𝑛
2 2
𝜌 𝑟 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛
, 𝑟𝑖𝑛 < 𝑟 < 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡
𝐸 𝑟 = 2𝑟𝜖𝑜
𝜌 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 2 − 𝑟𝑖𝑛 2
, 𝑟 ≥ 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡
{ 2𝑟𝜖𝑜

Solving for 𝑟 = 0.025 𝑚 and 𝑟 = 0.1 𝑚 we have:


2 𝑋 10−6 0.0252 − 0.012
𝐸 0.025 =
2 ∙ 0.025 ∙ 8.8542 𝑋 10−12
𝐸 0.025 = 2371.76 𝑁⁄𝐶

2 𝑋 10−6 0.052 − 0.012


𝐸 0.1 =
2 ∙ 0.1 ∙ 8.8542 𝑋 10−12
𝐸 0.1 = 2710.58 𝑁⁄𝐶

For additional insight we plot the magnitude of the electric field for 𝑟 from 0 to 20 𝑐𝑚. Note
that the electric field increases when 𝑟 is between 𝑟𝑖𝑛 and 𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 since more charge is being
1
enclosed as we enlarge our gaussian surface, and begins to decrease as 𝑟 when 𝑟 is greater than
𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑡 .

Question 5:
A coaxial cable is an electrical cable that has an inner conductor surrounded by an insulating
layer, and then surrounded again by a conducting shield. Consider an infinitely long cable
illustrated below that carries a charge of 𝜆1 = 5 𝑛𝐶/𝑚 on its inner conductor, while the outer
conducting shield in uncharged. a.) Find the charge density on the inside and outside surface of
the conducting shield. b.) Find an expression for the electric field for all 𝑟.

𝟏 𝒄𝒎

𝟒 𝒄𝒎

𝟓 𝒄𝒎

Solution 5:
Part a.)
All charge is located on the outside surface of the inner conductor. This positive charge will
induce a negative charge on the inside surface of the outer conducting shell. Finally, since the
outer shell is uncharged there must exist the same amount of positive charge on the outside
surface.

+ - +
- -
+ + +
+ - + + - +
+ +
+
- -
+ - +
+

To determine the charge density on the inside and outside surface we realize that the total
charge on the inner conductor is spread over the larger surface areas of the outside conductor.
The total charge is given by:
𝑄𝑇 = 𝜆1 𝑙
Where, 𝑙 is the length of the cable. This charge is spread over the surface area of the inside and
outside surface of the outer shell with radius 𝑟2 and 𝑟3 respectively.
𝑄𝑇
𝜆2,3 =
2𝜋𝑟2,3 𝑙
𝜆1 𝑙 𝜆1
𝜆2,3 = =
2𝜋𝑟2,3 𝑙 2𝜋𝑟2,3

Inside surface charge density:


5
𝜆2 =
2𝜋0.04
𝜆2 = 19.9 𝑛𝐶 ⁄𝑚2

Outside surface charge density:

5 𝑋 10−9
𝜆3 =
2𝜋0.05
𝜆3 = 15.9 𝑛𝐶 ⁄𝑚2

Part b.)
Knowing the electric field inside a conductor is zero we need to find an expression for the
electric field for two regions; between the two conductors, and outside of the cable. However,
since the outside shell has zero net charge, the enclosed charge in both regions is the same.
Therefore, in both cases we can wrote Gauss’s law as follows:
𝑄𝑒𝑛𝑐
𝐸2𝜋𝑟 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜆1 𝑙
𝐸2𝜋𝑟𝑙 =
𝜖𝑜
𝜆1
𝐸=
2𝜋𝑟𝜖𝑜
The full expression, along with the plot for additional insight, is shown below.

0, 𝑟 ≤ 𝑟1
𝜆1
, 𝑟1 < 𝑟 < 𝑟2
2𝜋𝑟𝜖𝑜
𝐸 𝑟 =
0, 𝑟2 ≤ 𝑟 ≤ 𝑟3
𝜆1
, 𝑟 > 𝑟3
{2𝜋𝑟𝜖𝑜

By: ferrantetutoring