The electric field of a given charge distribution can in principle be calculated using Coulomb's law. The examples discussed in Chapter 23 showed however, that the actual calculations can become quit complicated.
24.2. Gauss' LawAn alternative method to calculate the electric field of a given charge distribution relies on a theorem called Gauss' law. Gauss' law states that
" If the volume within an arbitrary closed mathematical surface holds a net electric charge Q, then the electric flux [Phi] though its surface is Q/[epsilon]0 "
Gauss' law can be written in the following form:
Example 1: Field of point charge.The field generated by a point charge q is spherical symmetric, and its magnitude will depend only on the distance r from the point charge. The direction of the field is along the direction (see Figure 24.2). Consider a spherical surface centered around the point charge q (see Figure 24.2). The direction of the electric field at any point on its surface is perpendicular to the surface and its magnitude is constant. This implies that the electric flux [Phi] through this surface is given by
Example 2: Problem 24.16Charge is uniformly distributed over the volume of a large slab of plastic of thickness d. The charge density is [rho] C/m3. The mid-plane of the slab is the y-z plane (see Figure 24.3). What is the electric filed at a distance x from the mid-plane ?
The flux [Phi]2 through surface 2 is given by
24.3. Conductors in Electric FieldsA large number of electrons in a conductor are free to move. The so called free electrons are the cause of the different behavior of conductors and insulators in an external electric filed. The free electrons in a conductor will move under the influence of the external electric field (in a direction opposite to the direction of the electric field). The movement of the free electrons will produce an excess of electrons (negative charge) on one side of the conductor, leaving a deficit of electrons (positive charge) on the other side. This charge distribution will also produce an electric field and the actual electric field inside the conductor can be found by superposition of the external electric field and the induced electric field, produced by the induced charge distribution. When static equilibrium is reached, the net electric field inside the conductor is exactly zero. This implies that the charge density inside the conductor is zero. If the electric field inside the conductor would not be exactly zero the free electrons would continue to move and the charge distribution would not be in static equilibrium. The electric field on the surface of the conductor is perpendicular to its surface. If this would not be the case, the free electrons would move along the surface, and the charge distribution would not be in equilibrium. The redistribution of the free electrons in the conductor under the influence of an external electric field, and the cancellation of the external electric field inside the conductor is being used to shield sensitive instruments from external electric fields.
The strength of the electric field on the surface of a conductor can be found by applying Gauss' law (see Figure 24.4). The electric flux through the surface shown in Figure 24.4 is given by