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LAPLACE’S EQUATION - CYLINDRICAL SHELL WITH

OPPOSING CHARGES

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Reference: Griffiths, David J. (2007) Introduction to Electrodynamics,
3rd Edition; Prentice Hall - Problem 3.39.
Post date: 23 Mar 2012.
As another example of applying the solution to Laplace’s equation in
cylindrical coordinates, we consider the following problem. We are given
a cylindrical non-conducting shell or radius R carrying a charge density of
σ0 on its upper half (−π < φ < 0) and −σ0 on its lower half (0 < φ < π).
Find the potential everywhere.
We can begin in the same manner as for the other problem involving a
cylindrical shell that we solved earlier. The solution is the same up until the
point where we introduce the surface charge.
Thus, outside the shell, we have
∞  
Dn Cn
Vout = Bout + ∑ n
cos nφ − n sin nφ (1)
n=1 r r
Inside the shell, we have

Vin = Bin + ∑ [Anrn sin nφ + Bnrn cos nφ] (2)
n=1
Since the potential is continuous over a surface charge, we must have
Vout (R) = Vin (R), so we get

∞   ∞
Dn Cn
Bout + ∑
R n
cos nφ −
R n
sin nφ = Bin + ∑ [AnRn sin nφ + BnRn cos nφ]
n=1 n=1
(3)
Equating coefficients of the sine and cosine, we get

Bout = Bin (4)


Cn = −An R2n (5)
Dn = Bn R2n (6)
The outward derivative of the potential is discontinuous across a surface
charge, and we have
1
LAPLACE’S EQUATION - CYLINDRICAL SHELL WITH OPPOSING CHARGES 2


∂V ∂V σ
− =− (7)
∂r out ∂r in
0
Plugging in the formulas for Vout and Vin , we get
(
σ0
−nR2n An 2n B −π < φ < 0
∞   ∞  
n−1 −nR n n−1 0
∑ Rn+1 − nR A n sin nφ+ ∑ Rn+1 − nR Bn cos nφ =
n=1 n=1 − σ00 0<φ<π
(8)
Since the surface charge is an odd function of φ, we can eliminate the
cosine terms, since the cosine is an even function. Therefore, we have Bn =
Dn = 0. We are free to choose the potential at infinity to be any constant, so
we might as well take it to be zero, in which case we have Bin = Bout = 0.
We are therefore left with, after simplifying the term in brackets:
(
σ0
∞ −π < φ < 0
− 2 ∑ nRn−1 An sin nφ = 0 σ0 (9)
n=1 − 0 0 < φ < π
To find the An , we can use the fact that the set of sin nφ functions is
orthogonal over the interval [−π, π]. That is
ˆ π (
0 n 6= m
sin mφ sin nφdφ = (10)
−π π n=m
Therefore we can multiply both sides by sin mφ and integrate to get
ˆ 0 ˆ π 
m−1 σ0
−2πmR Am = sin mφdφ − sin mφdφ (11)
0 −π 0
The integrals in brackets on the right come out to
ˆ 0 ˆ π  (
0 m even
sin mφdφ − sin mφdφ = 4 (12)
−π 0 −m m odd
Therefore (changing the index from m to n for convenience):
(
0 n even
An = 2σ0 (13)
π n2 Rn−1
n odd
0
We thus get
(
0 n even
Cn = n+1 (14)
− 2σπ0 Rn2 n odd
0
The final formula for the potential is
LAPLACE’S EQUATION - CYLINDRICAL SHELL WITH OPPOSING CHARGES 3

( 2σ nr
π0
0
∑∞
n odd n2 Rn−1 sin nφ r < R
V (r, φ) = 2σ0 Rn+1 (15)
π0 ∑∞
n odd n2 rn sin nφ r>R