NCERT Chapter Summary: Electric Charges and Fields

Electric and magnetic forces determine the properties of atoms, molecules and bulk matter.

From simple experiments on frictional electricity, one can infer that there are two types of charges in nature; and that like charges repel and unlike charges attract. By convention, the charge on a glass rod rubbed with silk is positive; that on a plastic rod rubbed with fur is then negative.

Conductors allow movement of electric charge through them, insulators do not. In metals, the mobile charges are electrons; in electrolytes both positive and negative ions are mobile.

Electric charge has three basic properties: quantisation, additivity and conservation.

Quantisation of electric charge means that total charge (q) of a body is always an integral multiple of a basic quantum of charge (e) i.e. q = ne. Proton and electron have charges +e, -e, respectively. For macroscopic charges for which n is a very large number, quantisation of charge can be ignored.

Additivity of electric charges means that the total charge of a system is the algebraic sum (the sum taking into account proper signs) of all individual charges in the system.

Conservation of electric charges means that the total charge of an isolated system remains unchanged with time. This means that when bodies are charged through friction, there is a transfer of electric charge from one body to another, but no creation or destruction of charge.

Coulomb’s Law: The mutual electrostatic force between two point charges q1 and q2 is proportional to the product q1q2 and inversely proportional to the square of the distance r21 separating them.

Superposition Principle: The principle is based on the property that the forces with which two charges attract or repel each other are not affected by the presence of a third (or more) additional charge(s).

The electric field E at a point due to a charge configuration is the force on a small positive test charge q placed at the point divided by the magnitude of the charge. Electric field due to a point charge q has a magnitude |q|/4πε0r2; it is radially outwards from q, if q is positive, and radially inwards if q is negative. Like Coulomb force, electric field also satisfies superposition principle.

An electric field line is a curve drawn in such a way that the tangent at each point on the curve gives the direction of electric field at that point. The relative closeness of field lines indicates the relative strength of electric field at different points; they crowd near each other in regions of strong electric field and are far apart where the electric field is weak. In regions of constant electric field, the field lines are uniformly spaced parallel straight lines.

Some of the important properties of field lines are: (i) Field lines are continuous curves without any breaks. (ii) Two field lines cannot cross each other. (iii) Electrostatic field lines start at positive charges and end at negative charges - they cannot form closed loops.

An electric dipole is a pair of equal and opposite charges q and -q separated by some distance 2a. Its dipole moment vector p has magnitude 2qa and is in the direction of the dipole axis from -q to q.

In a uniform electric field E, a dipole experiences a torque, but experiences no net force.

Gauss’s law: The flux of electric field through any closed surface S is 1/ε0 times the total charge enclosed by S. The law is especially useful in determining electric field E, when the source distribution has simple symmetry:

  1. Thin infinitely long straight wire of uniform linear charge density λ
  2. Infinite thin plane sheet of uniform surface charge density σ
  3. Thin spherical shell of uniform surface charge density σ