Electric Potential: Explaining the Basics

In summary: So it is possible to have a negative electric field in a positive potential field, just as it is possible to have a downward slope on a hill even if the overall direction of the hill is upwards.In summary, voltage is the measure of the ability to move electrical charge through resistance. It can be compared to the pressure difference in a hydraulic system, where the work done to move water is equal to the pressure multiplied by the volume of water moved. Voltage is a convenient way of quantifying the ability to do work in relation to electric current. It is an alternate way of viewing the same thing as the electric field, which takes a "force" view while voltage takes an "energy" view. It is possible to have a negative electric
  • #1
Niles
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I've read some litterature about the electric potential (V, volts), but I feel like I still miss an actual explanation of what this really is. I know it's "potential energy per unit charge", but I am searching for a more down-to-earth explanation.

Is it an "elementary" phenomenon, like electric fields?

Can I have a negative electric field in a positive potential field?
 
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  • #2
Voltage is basically the ability to move an electrical charge through resistance.

Wiki has a good explanation for it.

Here's an analogy to it:

If one imagines water circulating in a network of pipes, driven by pumps in the absence of gravity, as an analogy of an electrical circuit, then the potential difference corresponds to the fluid pressure difference between two points. If there is a pressure difference between two points, then water flowing from the first point to the second will be able to do work, such as driving a turbine.

This hydraulic analogy is a useful method of teaching a range of electrical concepts. In a hydraulic system, the work done to move water is equal to the pressure multiplied by the volume of water moved. Similarly, in an electrical circuit, the work done to move electrons or other charge-carriers is equal to 'electrical pressure' (an old term for voltage) multiplied by the quantity of electrical charge moved. Voltage is a convenient way of quantifying the ability to do work. In relation to electric current, the larger the gradient (voltage or hydraulic) the greater the current (assuming resistance is constant).
 
  • #3
Niles said:
Is it an "elementary" phenomenon, like electric fields?
Think of it as an alternate way of viewing the same thing. Potential takes an "energy" view, while the electric field takes a "force" view. But given the potential you can calculate the field. See: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/electric/efromv.html#c1"

Can I have a negative electric field in a positive potential field?
Sure. The electric field is related to the slope of the potential field. Think of the potential field like a hill--the slope at any point represents the electric field strength at that point.
 
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1. What is electric potential?

Electric potential is the amount of electric potential energy per unit of charge at a specific point in an electric field. It is also known as voltage and is measured in volts.

2. How is electric potential calculated?

Electric potential can be calculated by dividing the electric potential energy by the amount of charge at a specific point. The formula is V = U/Q, where V is the electric potential, U is the electric potential energy, and Q is the amount of charge.

3. What is the difference between electric potential and electric potential energy?

Electric potential is the amount of electric potential energy per unit of charge at a specific point, while electric potential energy is the potential energy that a charge possesses due to its position in an electric field.

4. How does electric potential affect the movement of charges?

Electric potential determines the direction and speed of the movement of charges in an electric field. Charges will always move from areas of higher potential to areas of lower potential.

5. What are some real-world applications of electric potential?

Electric potential has various applications in our daily lives, such as powering electronic devices, generating electricity in power plants, and transmitting electricity through power lines. It is also used in medical devices, such as pacemakers, and in the production of chemical and industrial processes.

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