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MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Department of Physics
8.02

Spring 2013

ProblemSet4Solutions
Problem1
Twochargeslieonthexaxis.Arepresentationoftheequipotentialsoftheelectricpotentialof
thesetwochargesisshowntotheright.Thestreaksinthisrepresentationareparalleltothe
equipotentialcurves.Whichoneofthefollowingstatementsistrue?

1. Thetwochargeshaveoppositesignsandthechargeontheleftissmallerinmagnitude
thanthechargeontheright.
2. Thetwochargeshaveoppositesignsandthechargeontheleftislargerinmagnitude
thanthechargeontheright.
3. Thetwochargeshavethesamesignandthechargeontheleftissmallerinmagnitude
thanthechargeontheright.
4. Thetwochargeshavethesamesignandthechargeontheleftislargerinmagnitudethan
thechargeontheright.
Answer:2.Theequipotentiallinesshowazeroelectricfieldpointtotherightofthechargeon
theright:thefieldmustbeorthogonaltotheequipotentials,andatthatpointthiscannotbe
satisfiedbyanyfiniteelectricfield.Thereforethetwochargesmustbeofoppositesigns.The
chargeontheleftisfurtherawayfromthezeropointofthefieldsothemagnitudeofthecharge
ontheleftmustbelargerthanthemagnitudeofthechargeontheright.

PS041

PS042

Problem 2 Partial Derivatives and the Gradient


Introduction: For one-dimensional functions of a single variable, e.g. f (x) , the derivative,
df / dx or f '(x) , tells you how the function changes for small changes in the independent
variable x. When a function depends on several variables, e.g. f (x, y, z) , there are several
different derivatives, called partial derivatives, f / x, f / y, and f / z. Both in concept
and in practice the partial derivative is the same as the one-dimensional derivative, asking how
the function changes as you change one of its independent variables (while holding the others
fixed treat them as constants when you take the derivative).
Consider a point-like positively charged object with charge q located at the origin. Choose
V() 0 then we determined in class (W03D2 class) that the electric potential difference
V(r) V() V(r) between infinity and any point on a sphere of radius r centered on the
origin is given by the expression

V(r)

keq
.
r

(a) Find an expression for the potential in Cartesian coordinates (x, y, z) .


Solution:

V(x, y, z)

keq
x2 y2 z2

(b) Calculate the three derivatives, called partial derivatives, V / x, V / y, and V / z.


Solution:

keq
k q
keqx
V
2x

3
x x x2 y2 z2
2 (x2 y2 z2 ) 2
r3
keq
k q
keqy
V
2y

3
y y x2 y2 z2
2 (x2 y2 z2 ) 2
r3
keq
k q
keqz
V
2z

3
z z x2 y2 z2
2 (x2 y2 z2 ) 2
r3

PS043

Gradient: It is also convenient to define the gradient of a multidimensional scalar function. The
gradient is a vector field that everywhere points in the direction of maximum change (steepest
ascent uphill) of the function. It is calculated as follows:

f
f
f
f i j k .
x y z
(c) Again consider V(x, y, z)

keq
x2 y2 z2

. Calculate its gradient V . Use the fact that

r xi yj zk and r x2 y2 z2 to express your answer in terms of ke , q, r , and r .


Solution:

V
i V j V k keqx i keqy j keqz k k q r
V
e
x
y
z
r3
r3
r3
r3

(d)Basedonyouranswertopart(c),whatistherelationshipbetween V andtheelectricfield

E.
Solution: Thisshouldlookfamiliaritsthenegativeoftheelectricfieldcreatedbyapoint

charge, V E

(e) (i) For a point-like charged object, does the gradient V point in the direction of maximum
increase or maximum decrease of the function V ? Explain your reasoning. (ii) Does the sign of
the charge effect your answer to part (i)? Explain your reasoning.
Solution
(i)Thedirectionofthegradientistheminusthedirectionoftheelectricfield.Forapointlike
positivelychargedobject,theelectricfieldpointsawayfromthepointobject.Thereforethe

V E pointstowardsthepointlikeobject.For q 0 , V(r) keq/ r increasesfastestwhen


youmoveradiallyinwardsothe directionofthegradient pointsinthedirectionofmaximum
increase of the function V . (ii) If q 0 , the electric field points towards the origin, so

V E pointsradiallyoutward.Thefunction V(r) keq/ r increasesasyoumoveradially


outwardwhen q 0 .Thereforethedirectionofthegradientpointsinthedirectionofmaximum
increaseofthefunction V regardlessofthesignofthecharge.
Generalization:FindingtheElectricFieldfromtheElectricPotential

PS044

Yourresultsforthepointlikechargedobjectgeneralizetoanysourceofelectricfield.Because
theelectrostaticforceonachargedobjectinanelectrostaticfieldisaconservativeforce,theline
B

integral Felec ds is pathindependent andhence inclass (W03D2)wedefined the electric


A

potentialdifferenceby

Ft B
V( B) V( A) ds Es ds.
q
A t
A
B

Wheneveralineintegralofafunctionisindependentofthepath,thelineintegralcanbewritten
as
B

V(B) V( A) V ds.
A

Comparingourtwoexpressionsweseethat


E V .

(f)Usingtheresultthat E V ,doestheelectricfielddependonyourchoiceofpointforthe
zeroreferenceelectricpotential?Explainyourreasoning.
Solution: Ifwechangedourzeroreference point,thenwearechanging aelectric potential
functionbyaconstant V0 .Howeverthegradientofaconstantiszerowegetthesameanswer
fortheelectricfield.Weexpectthisbecausetheelectricfieldisuniquesinceifweplacea

chargedobjectatapointPtheforceonthatobjectis Fq qE .Twodifferentelectricfieldwould
givetwodifferentforceswhichcontradictsphysicalexperience.

PS045

Problem 3 Suppose that the electric potential varies along the x-axis as shown in the figure
below.

Thepotentialdoesnotvaryintheyorzdirection.Oftheintervalsshown(ignorethebehavior
attheendpointsoftheintervals),determinetheintervalsinwhich Ex has
(a)itsgreatestabsolutevalue.
(b)itsleast.
(c)Plot Ex asafunctionofx.
(d)Whatsortofchargedistributionswouldproducethesekindsofchangesinthepotential?
Wherearetheylocated?
Solution

PS046

V
,thegreatestabsolutevalueof Ex correspondstotheintervalinwhich V
x
changes most steeply. From the graph, we see that this occurs in interval ab, with
15 (10)
Ex
25,or | Ex | 25 .
(2) (3)

(a)Since Ex

(b)ThesmallestabsolutevalueofExcorrespondstotheintervalinwhichVchangestheleast.
Fromthegraph,weseethatthisoccursinintervalcd,with Ex 0 .
(c)Aplot Ex asafunctionofxisshowninthefigurebelow.

(d)Thesekindsofchangesinthepotentialcanbeproducedwithsheetsofchargeextendingin
theyzdirectionlocatedatpointsb,c,d,etc.alongthexaxis.Noteagainthatasheetofcharge
withchargeperunitareawillalwaysproduceajumpinthenormalcomponentoftheelectric
fieldofmagnitude / 0 .

PS047

Problem4
Two parallel infinite non-conducting plates lying in the xy-plane are separated by a distance d .
The upper plate located at z d / 2 is uniformly positively charged with surface charge density
. The lower plate located at z d / 2 is uniformly negatively charged with surface charge
density .

a) Find the electric field in the regions (i) z d / 2 ,(ii) z d / 2 ,(iii) d / 2 z d / 2 .


b) Findtheelectricpotentialdifference V(d / 2) V(d / 2) .
Solution:
The electric field due to the two planes can be found by applying the superposition principle to
the result obtained in Example 4.2 for one plane. Since the planes carry equal but opposite
surface charge densities, both fields have equal magnitude:

E E

2 0

The field of the positive plane points away from the positive plane and the field of the negative
plane points towards the negative plane

Therefore, when we add these fields together, we see that the field outside the parallel planes is
zero, and the field between the planes has twice the magnitude of the field of either plane.

PS048

The electric field of the positive and the negative planes are given by


2 k, z d / 2

k, z d / 2

2 0
E
k
, z d / 2
2 0

k
, z d/ 2
2 0

Adding these two fields together then yields

0 k,

z d/ 2


d / 2 z d / 2
E k,

0 k,
z d / 2

Note that the magnitude of the electric field between the plates is
of a single plate, and vanishes in the regions
and
.

, which is twice that

b) The electric potential difference between the plates is then

z d/ 2
dzk

V(d / 2) V(d / 2) E ds k

z d/ 2
z d/ 2
0
z d/ 2

z d/ 2

z d/ 2

dz

d
((d / 2) (d / 2)
0
0

PS049

Problem 5
Consider a uniformly charged sphere of radius R and charge Q. Find the electric potential
difference V(r) V(0) between any point lying on a sphere of radius r and the point at the
origin, for (a) 0 r R and (b) r R. Choose the zero reference point for the potential at the
origin, i.e. V(0) 0 . (c) Make a plot of V(r) vs. r .
Solution: In order to solve this problem we must first calculate the electric field as a function of
r for the regions 0 r R and r R. Then we integrate the electric field to find the electric
potential difference between any point lying on a sphere of radius r and the point at the origin.
Because we are computing the integral along a path we must be careful to use the correct
functional form for the electric field in each region that our path crosses.
There are two distinct regions of space defined by the charged sphere: region I:
, and
region II:
. So we shall apply Gausss Law in each region to find the electric field in that
region.
For region I:
, we choose a sphere of radius r as our Gaussian surface. Then, the electric
flux through this closed surface is


2
E

I dA EI 4 r .

The sphere has a uniform charge density Q / (4 / 3) R3 . Because the charge distribution is
uniform, the charge enclosed in our Gaussian surface is given by

Qenc (4 / 3) r 3 Q r 3

.
0
0
0 R3
Now we apply Gausss Law:

Qenc
E

I dA 0 .

to arrive at:

PS0410

EI 4 r 2

Q r3
.
0 R3

which we can solve for the electric field inside the sphere

EI EI r

Qr
r , 0 r R.
4 0 R3

For region II:


: we choose the same spherical Gaussian surface of radius
electric flux has the same form

II

, and the

dA EII 4 r 2 .

All the charge is now enclosed, Qenc Q , then Gausss Law becomes

EII 4 r 2

Q
.
0

We can solve this equation for the electric field

EII EII r

Q
r , r R .
4 0 r 2

In this region of space, the electric field falls off as as we expect since outside the
charge distribution, the sphere acts as if all the charge were concentrated at the origin.
Our complete expression for the electric field as a function of r is then

PS0411


EI EI r

E(r)

Qr
r , 0 r R
4 0 R3

E E r
II
II

Q
r , r R
4 0 r 2

We can now find the electric potential difference between any point lying on a sphere of
radius r and the origin, i.e. V(r) V(0) .
We begin by considering values of r such that 0 r R. We shall calculate the potential
difference by calculating the line integral

V(r) V(0)

rr


EI dr ; 0 r R

r 0

We use as integration variable r and integrate from r 0 to r r :


rr

rr

Qr
Qr
Qr 2

V(r) V(0)
r dr r
dr
; 0rR
4 0 R3
4 0 R3
8 0 R3
r 0
r 0
For
: we are taking a path from the origin through regions I and regions II and so
we need to use both functional forms for the electric field in the appropriate regions. The
potential difference between any point lying on a sphere of radius r R and the origin is
given by the line integral expression

V(r) V(0)

r R

r 0

rr
EI dr EII dr ; r R.
r R

Using our results for the electric field we get that

V(r) V(0)

r R

rr

Qr
Q
4 R3 r dr r 4 r 2 r dr r ; r R
r0
r R
0
0

This becomes

V(r) V(0)

r R

rr

Qr
Q
4 R3 dr 4 r 2 dr ; r R
r 0
r R
0
0

Integrating yields

PS0412

Qr 2
V(r) V(0)
8 0 R3

r R

r 0

rr

; rR
4 0 r r R

Substituting in the endpoints yields

V(r) V(0)

Q
Q 1 1

; rR
8 0 R 4 0 r R

A little algebra then yields

Q
3Q

; rR
4 0 r 8 0 R

V(r) V(0)

Thus the electric potential difference between any point lying on a sphere of radius r and
the origin (where V(0) 0 ) is given by

Qr 2
; 0r R

3
8 0 R
V(r) V(0)
Q 3Q ; r R
4 0 r 8 0 R

When we set V(0) 0 , we have an expression for the electric potential function

Qr 2

; 0r R

3
8 0 R
V(r)
Q 3Q ; r R
4 0 r 8 0 R

We plot V(r) vs. r in the figure below. Note that the graph of the electric potential
function is continuous at r R.

PS0413

PS0414