gauss law and conductors and gauss law exercises and solutions
Conductors, Gauss’ Law
Physics 2415 Lecture 4
Michael Fowler, UVa
• Electric fields in and near conductors
• Gauss’ Law Electric Field Inside a Conductor
• If an electric current is flowing down a wire,
we now know that it’s actually electrons
flowing the other way. They lose energy by
colliding with impurities and lattice vibrations,
but an electric field inside the wire keeps
• In electrostatics—our current topic—charges
in conductors don’t move, so there can be no
electric field inside a conductor in this case. Clicker Question
• Suppose somehow a million electrons are
injected right at the center of a solid metal
(conductor) ball. What happens?
A. Nothing—they’ll just stay at rest there.
B. They’ll spread throughout the volume of ball
so it is uniformly negatively charged.
C. They’ll all go to the outside surface of the ball,
and spread around there. Clicker Answer
• Suppose somehow a million electrons are injected
into a tiny space at the center of a solid metal
(conductor) ball. What happens?
They’ll all go to the outside surface of the ball, and
spread around there.
As long as there are charges within the bulk of the
ball, there will be an outward pointing electric
field inside the ball, which will cause an outward
current. (Imagine uniform distribution: Picture the
total electric force on one charge from all the
others within a sphere centered at the one, this
sphere partially outside the conducting sphere.) Clicker Question
• A solid conducting metal ball has • a
at its center a ball of insulator,
and inside the insulator there
resides a completely trapped
• After leaving this system a long
time, is there a nonzero electric
field inside the solid metal of the
B. No Clicker Answer
• At the instant the charge is
introduced, there will be a
momentary radial field, negative
charges will flow inwards,
positives outwards, to settle on
• There will be nonzero electric
field within the insulator, and
outside the ball, but not inside
• Draw the lines of force Electric Field at a Metal Surface
• A charged metal ball has an electric field at
the surface going radially outwards.
• Any electrostatically charged conductor
(meaning no currents are flowing) cannot
have an electric field at the surface with a
component parallel to the surface, or current
would flow in the surface, so
• The electrostatic field always meets a
conducting surface perpendicularly.
• Note: if there was a tangential field outside—and of
course none inside—you could accelerate an electron
indefinitely on a circular path, half inside
Conducting Ball Put into External
Constant Electric Field
• The charges on the ball will
rearrange, meaning electrons
flow to the left, leaving the
right positively charged.
• Note that in the electrostatic
situation after the charges
stop moving, the electric field
lines meet the surfaces at
• The sphere is now a dipole Field for a Charge Near a Metal Sphere
Note: it looks like some field lines cross each other—they can’t This is a 3D picture. Dipole Field Lines in 3D
• There’s an analogy with
flow of an incompressible
fluid: imagine fluid
emerging from a source at
the positive charge,
draining into a sink at the
• The electric field lines are
like stream lines, showing
fluid velocity direction at
• Check out the applets at
“Velocity Field” of a Fluid in 2D
example: surface wind vectors on a weather map
• Imagine a fluid flowing out between
two close parallel plates. The fluid
velocity vector at any point will point
• For steady flow, the amount of fluid
per second crossing a circle centered
at the origin can’t depend on the
radius of the circle: so if you double
the radius, you’ll find v down by a
factor of 2:
vr1/Velocity Field for a Steady Source in 3D
• Imagine now you’re filling a deep pool, with a
hose and its end, deep in the water, is a porous
ball so the water flows out equally in all
directions. Assume water is incompressible.
• Now picture the flow through a spherical fishnet,
centered on the source, and far smaller than the
• Now think of a second spherical net, twice the
radius of the first, so 4x the surface area. In
steady flow, total water flow across the two
spheres is the same: so .
• This velocity field is identical to the electric field
from a positive charge Flow Through any Surface
• Suppose now instead of a
spherical surface surrounding
the source, we take some other
• Obviously, in the steady state,
the rate of total fluid flow across
this surface will be the same—
that is, equal to the rate fluid is
coming from the source.
Remember our fluid is
• But how do we quantify the
incompressible, so it can’t
fluid flow through such a net?
be piling up anywhere Total Flow through any Surface
• But how do we quantify the fluid
flow through such a net?
• We do it one fishnet hole at a time:
unlike the sphere, the flow velocity
is no longer always perpendicular to
• We represent each fishnet hole by a
vector , magnitude equal to its dA
(small) area, direction perpendicular
outwards. Flow through hole is
The component of perp. to
• The total outward flow is .
the surface is v .
• For incompressible fluid in steady outward flow
from a source, the flow rate across any surface
enclosing the source is the same.
• The electric field from a point charge is identical
to this fluid velocity field—it points outward
and goes down as 1/r .
• It follows that for the electric field E
for any surface enclosing the charge
EdA const.Q /
(the value for a sphere).
What about a Closed Surface that
Doesn’t Include the Charge?
• The yellow dotted line • a
represents some fixed closed
surface (visualize a balloon).
• Think of the fluid picture: in
steady flow, it goes in one
side, out the other. The net
flow across the surface must
be zero—it can’t pile up
• By analogy, E dA 0 if
the charge is outside. What about More than One Charge?
• Remember the Principle of Superposition: the
electric field can always be written as a linear
sum of contributions from individual point
EEEE from Q ,Q ,Q
1 2 3 1 2 3
EdA EdA EdA EdA
1 2 3
will have a contribution from each
charge inside the surface—this is Gauss’s Law. Gauss’ Law
• The integral of the total electric field flux out
of a closed surface is equal to the total charge
Q inside the surface divided by :