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Electric Potential Energy and Sign

  1. Mar 12, 2015 #1
    There is a negative point charge with a positively charged plate above it and a negatively charged plate below it. Define up as positive and down as negative. When the point charge moves towards the positively charged plate it does negative work. Why? The force the charge experiences is upward in the positive direction and it moves in the same direction as the force.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2015 #2

    BvU

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    It loses potential energy. That can be used to pull up something that is pulling downwards.

    Just like a mass does when it goes from a high position to a lower position.
     
  4. Mar 12, 2015 #3
    ? It gains potential energy.
     
  5. Mar 12, 2015 #4

    haruspex

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    It gains gravitational PE but loses (more) electrostatic PE.
     
  6. Mar 12, 2015 #5
    No, it gains electrostatic potential energy. deltaU = -W; work is negative in this case; potential energy increases. From "University Physics" by Young and Freedman:

    "Negative charge moves in the direction of the electric field, field does negative work, potential energy increases" (pg 756)

    I'm wondering why this is true.
     
  7. Mar 12, 2015 #6

    haruspex

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    I can only suppose that should say "If the negative charge ..."
    In the OP, the direction of the field is down and the charge is moving up, so against the field. Correspondingly, the field is doing positive work and the electrostatic PE decreases.
     
  8. Mar 13, 2015 #7

    BvU

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    Perhaps ##\Delta {\rm potential\ energy} = q\Delta V## ?

    In your description the negative charge moves against the direction of the electric field !


    And what helped me was to draw a few graphs for a fixed single positive point charge case: 1/r2 for E, 1/r for V. And move a positive test charge from A to B >A. Then idem negative test charge.

    I liked this presentation.
     
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