# How Do Equipotential Contours Indicate Charge and Field Strength?

• TJDF
In summary: I agree with your conclusions. I used the quote function to show you that. You can use it to show what you want to quote. Just click on the quote button after you have highlighted the text you want to quote. The result is [ QUOTE ] text you have selected [ /QUOTE ] but without the spaces I've inserted. The most important thing I can tell you is that you are on the right track. The way to learn physics is to do it. You are doing it. Keep asking questions. If you can, show us what your instructor does in class. If you can't, try to describe it. Sometimes, I have difficulty understanding what an instructor is doing. But then I'm old and
TJDF

## Homework Statement

The lines show equipotential contours in the plane of three point charges, Q1, Q2, and Q3. The positions of the charges are marked by dots. The values of the potentials are in kilovolts as indicated, e.g., +5 kV, −5 kV; the contour interval is 1 kV. The letters denote locations on the contours. For distances use the scale below the picture, to an appropriate accuracy. Select all the correct statements, e.g., AB.

http://img100.imageshack.us/img100/2589/physicswe4.jpg
http://g.imageshack.us/img100/physicswe4.jpg/1/

A) The electric field at g is zero.
B) Charge Q2 is the largest negative charge.
C) Q1 is a negative charge.
D) The electric field at d is stronger than at b.
E) Charge Q3 is the largest positive charge.
F) The force on an electron at g points to the top of the page.

## Homework Equations

No equations necessary, theory only.

## The Attempt at a Solution

I just don't know the theory behind this, I've been tried, failed, and I don't understand. If anyone can explain the concepts and what the right answer is, I'd really appreciate it.

Last edited by a moderator:
Anyone?

Here's some relevant theory. Taking your reference position to be V = 0 at infinity, the electric potential, V, is given by

$$V = \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon_o} \frac{q}{r}$$

This is related to the electric field by

$$E = - \nabla V$$

which for a point charge can be rewritten as

$$E = - \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon_o} \frac{\partial}{\partial r} \frac{q}{r}$$

calculating out the derivative, you get

$$E = \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon_o} \frac{q}{r^2}$$

The lines drawn on your diagram are lines of constant electric potential. They are analogous to lines of constant altitude on a topographic map. The closer together the equipotential lines are, the larger the gradient, so the stronger the electric field is. The same thing is true on a topographic map --steep hills are indicated by contour lines close together.

Hope this helps.

Thanks.

I still don't know how each would apply to the questions though.

A) The electric field at g is zero.
---> I can't tell whether this is true or not, I'm starting to have my doubts, but I can't explain why.
B) Charge Q2 is the largest negative charge.
---> I was told the diameter of the charge means it has more strength, therefore Q1 is the largest negative charge, so this is definitely false... right?
C) Q1 is a negative charge.
---> True. Unless I've been reading this wrong.
D) The electric field at d is stronger than at b.
---> I thought because they are on the same contour lines, the fields are the same, but again, like A, I don't get the reasoning, but judging by the fact that closer equipotential lines are, then stronger gradients, this must be true.
E) Charge Q3 is the largest positive charge.
---> It's the only positive charge. True.
F) The force on an electron at g points to the top of the page.
---> False, I'm pretty sure on this one now from my reading.

Is the electric field zero if the equipotential contour line is 0 volts?
How does the diameter of the circle affect the strength of the charge?
Are electric fields on the same contour line equal or judging by the fact that closer equipotential lines are, then stronger gradients, then can they be different?
What about the force on an electrons and why they would point up/down?

Wait... are the correct answers C, D, and E?

C is true because q1 is a negative charge.
D is true because the contour lines are closer together, and D is closer to the positive charge meaning the field must be stronger because... the charge is stronger.
E is true because q3 is the only positive charge.

A is false because there are positive charges and negative charge and so it naturally cannot be 0.
B is false because q1 has a large radius and therefore, looking at the formula rearranged, that would make q larger.
F is false because the electron should point down in alignment with its charge.

Is this right?? unfortunately I am not given the correct answers and I can't find anything that explains this clearly to me, usually I learn through examples, but I can't find any. Can anyone confirm or disprove my reasoning?

TJDF said:
Wait... are the correct answers C, D, and E?

C is true because q1 is a negative charge.
Yes, I agree

D is true because the contour lines are closer together, and D is closer to the positive charge meaning the field must be stronger because... the charge is stronger.
E is true because q3 is the only positive charge.

I'll go along with these conclusions, too

A is false because there are positive charges and negative charge and so it naturally cannot be 0.
Correct, electric field lines start on positive charges and end on negative charges (by convention) By the way you will eventually run into situations where the electric field is zero, but the electric potential is NOT. That will occur with conductors. Keep an eye out for it

B is false because q1 has a large radius and therefore, looking at the formula rearranged, that would make q larger.

Correct. A simple way to show this is to assume two situations, one with charge -q and one with charge -2q and compute the radius for a -5 volt contour line. Then compare the values you get.

F is false because the FORCE ON THE electron should point down in alignment with its charge.

Correct, although I edited your sentence

Is this right?? unfortunately I am not given the correct answers and I can't find anything that explains this clearly to me, usually I learn through examples, but I can't find any. Can anyone confirm or disprove my reasoning?

Obviously, my responses are in black

Thanks so much!
I understand it perfectly now!

## What is Equipotential Contour Theory?

Equipotential Contour Theory is a scientific concept used in the field of electricity and magnetism to describe the behavior of electric and magnetic fields. It states that points on a surface that have the same potential are connected by imaginary lines called equipotential contours. These contours are perpendicular to the direction of the electric or magnetic field at that point.

## How is Equipotential Contour Theory used in practice?

Equipotential Contour Theory is used to visualize and map out electric and magnetic fields in a given area. By plotting equipotential contours, scientists can determine the strength and direction of these fields and use this information to design and optimize devices such as motors, generators, and antennas.

## What is the significance of equipotential contours?

Equipotential contours are significant because they provide a visual representation of the complex behavior of electric and magnetic fields. They also help scientists and engineers understand the relationships between these fields and the objects or materials that interact with them.

## Can equipotential contours be used to determine the potential difference between two points?

Yes, equipotential contours can be used to determine the potential difference between two points by measuring the distance between the two points along the contour lines. The closer the points are to each other, the smaller the potential difference, and vice versa.

## Are there any limitations to Equipotential Contour Theory?

Like any scientific theory, Equipotential Contour Theory has its limitations. It assumes that the electric and magnetic fields are static, which is not always the case in real-world situations. It also does not take into account any variations in the properties of the materials or objects in the field, which can affect the behavior of the fields.

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