Electrostatic Field

A field of force exists around a charged body. This field is an electrostatic field (sometimes called a dielectric field) and is represented by lines extending in all directions from the charged body and terminating where there is an equal and opposite charge.

To explain the action of an electrostatic field, lines are used to represent the direction and intensity of the electric field of force. As illustrated in Figure 10-8, the intensity of the field is indicated by the number of lines per unit area, and the direction is shown by arrowheads on the lines pointing in the direction in which a small test charge would move or tend to move if acted upon by the field of force.

Either a positive or negative test charge can be used, but it has been arbitrarily agreed that a small positive charge will always be used in determining the direction of the field. Thus, the direction of the field around a positive charge is always away from the charge, as shown in Figure 10-8, because a positive test charge would be repelled. On the other hand, the direction of the lines about a negative charge is toward the charge, since a positive test charge is attracted toward it.

Figure 10-9 illustrates the field around bodies having like charges. Positive charges are shown, but regardless of the type of charge, the lines of force would repel each other if the charges were alike. The lines terminate on material objects and always extend from a positive charge to a negative charge. These lines are imaginary lines used to show the direction a real force takes.

It is important to know how a charge is distributed on an object. Figure 10-10 shows a small metal disk on which a concentrated negative charge has been placed. By using an electrostatic detector, it can be shown that the charge is spread evenly over the entire surface of the disk. Since the metal disk provides uniform resistance everywhere on its surface, the mutual repulsion of electrons will result in an even distribution over the entire surface.

Another example, shown in Figure 10-11, is the charge on a hollow sphere. Although the sphere is made of conducting material, the charge is evenly distributed over the outside surface. The inner surface is completely neutral. This phenomenon is used to safeguard operating personnel of the large Van de Graaff static generators used for atom smashing. The safest area for the operators is inside the large sphere, where millions of volts are being generated.

The distribution of the charge on an irregularly shaped object differs from that on a regularly shaped object. Figure 10-12 shows that the charge on such objects is not evenly distributed. The greatest charge is at the points, or areas of sharpest curvature, of the objects.

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