Unstable or stable electrostatic equilibrium?

• Angela G
In summary, the conversation discusses how to determine if the electrostatic equilibrium at the center of a ring is stable or not. Various methods are suggested, including using the Laplace equation and the shell theorem. It is also mentioned that the equilibrium is achieved by balancing repulsive or attractive forces in different directions. The conversation also touches on the concept of electric field and potential energy.

Angela G

Homework Statement
Consider a circular ring with radius R and uniform longitudinal charge density λ
a) Assume that a charge of magnitude q is in the center of the circle. The power of it then becomes zero, i.e. we have an equilibrium position. Is this stable or unstable? Motivate the answer!

b) Suppose now that we take off half of the ring and that the long charge density remains the same. (The ring is not conductive.) Determine the magnitude of the force acting on the charge q.
Relevant Equations
## V(0) = \frac{\lambda}{2\epsilon_0} ##
## \nabla^2 V = 0 ##
## U = - \vec p \cdot \vec E ##
## W = q V ##
I wonder if you could help me with both I'm stuck, I know that in order to see if the electrostatic equilibrium is stable or not at the center of the ring , the potential energy has to be minimum there. I was going to use Laplace eq. but it allows neither minimum nor maximum. Then I also thought that if you move the point charge to either the right or left, it should experience a force that takes the point charge back to the center of the ring (for stable equilibrium). But since we have only got the magnitude of charges, I guess I have to make assumptions (if both the point and line circles have the same sign or if they have different signs of charges). Another alternative that I thought of was to use that U = - p * E, where if the electric dipole is parallel to the electric field we have the smallest potential energy, but again the problems arise about the signs of the charges and now it is also an external electric field involved, which we do not have. So I'm wondering if you could guide me. I would like to solve in with advanced physics, please.

I determined the electric potential at the center of the ring without the charge it was $$V(0) = \frac{\lambda}{2\epsilon_0}$$

for b) I was thinking that I can determine the electric field cause we don't hade longer circular simetry and then the force by columbs law

bob012345 and Delta2
For b) you should be able to calculate the electric field, using the remaining symmetry to simplify the integration.

For a) if we assume that ##\lambda## is positive have you thought about what happens if ##q## is positive or negative?

PS another thought about a). If it were a sphere, rather than a ring, then the shell theorem would apply. Do you know an intuitive way to deduce the shell theorem? What happens if you apply that here?

PeroK said:
For a) if we assume that λ is positive have you thought about what happens if q is positive or negative?
The charge will experience either a attractive or a repulsive force depending if it is negative or positive.

PeroK said:
PS another thought about a). If it were a sphere, rather than a ring, then the shell theorem would apply. Do you know an intuitive way to deduce the shell theorem? What happens if you apply that here?
I don't know, I just used the shell theorem once and it was long ago or I am just confused which shell theorem do you mean?

Angela G said:
The charge will experience either a attractive or a repulsive force depending if it is negative or positive.
I was hoping for a little more thought than that. The central charge is surrounded by a ring of charge. The equilibrium is only achieved by repulsive (or attractive) forces in different directions cancelling out.

You may need to calculate the forces in this case, assuming there is a small displacement off centre.

PS The shell theorem (for electrostatics) can be found easily enough online.

ok, so for a charged shell we will have that the electric field will be ## \vec E = 0 ## due to the symmetry and when ## r> R## the electric field will be as for a point charge. I think this is the shell theorem or this is what I found.

PeroK said:
You may need to calculate the forces in this case, assuming there is a small displacement off centre.
how can I do that? Think I can use the coloumb law and then I have to determine the electric field at that point?

Angela G said:
The power of it then becomes zero, i.e. we have an equilibrium position
I found that there will be a " force" instead for "power"

Angela G said:
how can I do that? Think I can use the coloumb law and then I have to determine the electric field at that point?
Yes, you have to approximate the field for a small perturbation from centre.

I was also thinking how I can see if the equilibrium is stable or not by looking at the variation in the potential around the center. And I was wondering if we can also use laplace equition, to solve it. Since we have from a) what V is at r = 0 and we do the assumtion that ## V = 0 ## at ## R = \infty ##

Angela G said:
I was also thinking how I can see if the equilibrium is stable or not by looking at the variation in the potential around the center. And I was wondering if we can also use laplace equition, to solve it. Since we have from a) what V is at r = 0 and we do the assumtion that ## V = 0 ## at ## R = \infty ##
You could calculate the potential in a neighbourhood of the centre, yes.

could you please give me som advice for how to solve the laplacian in this case? Should I use the 2d or 1d equation?

Angela G said:
could you please give me some advice for how to solve the laplacian in this case? Should I use the 2d or 1d equation?
The ring is a 2d object so you are concerned with the 2d plane. I would suggest using polar coordinates but you can use symmetry arguments to simplify it.

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Angela G said:
could you please give me som advice for how to solve the laplacian in this case? Should I use the 2d or 1d equation?
As far as the stability of the equilibrium point at the center is concerned, just look at Laplace's equation in cylindrical coordinates,$$\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)+\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}=0.$$For the sum of the two terms to be zero, one must be the negative of the other everywhere in space. What does this say about stability for small displacements about the origin or anywhere else?

PhDeezNutz and Delta2
kuruman said:
As far as the stability of the equilibrium point at the center is concerned, just look at the Laplacian in cylindrical coordinates.$$\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)+\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}=0.$$For the sum of the two terms to be zero, one must be the negative of the other everywhere in space. What does this say about stability for small displacements about the origin or anywhere else?
Isn't this a flat 2D ring? I thought the OP concerned a small displacement from the center in the plane of the ring? I was thinking polar coordinates for 2D.

Delta2
bob012345 said:
I thought the OP concerned a small displacement from the center in the plane of the ring? I was thinking polar coordinates for 2D.
I thought it too

kuruman said:
What does this say about stability for small displacements about the origin or anywhere else?
As you said we will have that $$\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}= -\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)$$
I think that we have a maximun since the second derivative is negative and thus unstability, but if the laplacian applies we will not have any maximun or minimun in this area

bob012345 said:
Isn't this a flat 2D ring? I thought the OP concerned a small displacement from the center in the plane of the ring? I was thinking polar coordinates for 2D.
It is a flat ring indeed, but the electric potential it generates is 3-dimensional. Stable equilibrium means that there is a restoring force if the test particle is displaced in any direction in 3-d space. Of course, if the particle were somehow constrained from moving off the plane of the flat ring, then one would consider equilibrium in 2-d space.

hutchphd
Angela G said:
As you said we will have that $$\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}= -\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)$$
I think that we have a maximun since the second derivative is negative and thus unstability, but if the laplacian applies we will not have any maximun or minimun in this area
Which second derivative is negative? All that says is they have opposite signs and that's enough. Laplace's equation applies because there is no charge density in the area of interest.

how can I relate the Laplacian with the stability of the equilibrium?

kuruman said:
It is a flat ring indeed, but the electric potential it generates is 3-dimensional. Stable equilibrium means that there is a restoring force if the test particle is displaced in any direction in 3-d space. Of course, if the particle were somehow constrained from moving off the plane of the flat ring, then one would consider equilibrium in 2-d space.
True indeed. I can't say more without saying too much on this point. Just that it is not clear whether the problem was meant as a 2D only problem or not from the description in the OP.

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kuruman
Angela G said:
how can I relate the Laplacian with the stability of the equilibrium?
Think about what equilibrium means in terms of forces. They must be restoring in both directions ##\rho## and ##z##. Here is a simple exercise.

Consider two potential energies ##U_1=\frac{1}{2}kx^2## and ##U_2=-\frac{1}{2}kx^2 ~~ (k>0)##.
1. Which one gives rise to a restoring force, which one does not and why?
2. Can you deduce a general rule for answering the previous question that is applicable to any potential energy ##U(x)##?

So equilibrium means that the net force is zero. If we derive the equations you gave me we will have the force of a oxcillation so ## F_1 = \frac{\partial U_1 }{\partial x} = kx## and the ##F_2= \frac{\partial U_2 }{\partial x} = -kx ##. So the restoring force has to be negative, ## F_2##, cause the restoring force has to take the particle back to the equilibrium point and thus it most be against the motion direction.

I'm thinking about , If we derivate again the ##U_2## we will have ## \frac{\partial^2U}{\partial x^2} = - k##, where k is a constant, and if we compare it with the laplacian ##
\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}= -\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right) ## we can put that ## \frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)## = constant, but I don't know how to continue or if my reasoning is right

Angela G said:
So equilibrium means that the net force is zero. If we derive the equations you gave me we will have the force of a oxcillation so ## F_1 = \frac{\partial U_1 }{\partial x} = kx## and the ##F_2= \frac{\partial U_2 }{\partial x} = -kx ##. So the restoring force has to be negative, ## F_2##, cause the restoring force has to take the particle back to the equilibrium point and thus it most be against the motion direction.
A force is derived from a potential using ##F=-\dfrac{\partial U}{\partial x}##. The negative sign is very important.

Angela G said:
I'm thinking about , If we derivate again the ##U_2## we will have ## \frac{\partial^2U}{\partial x^2} = - k##, where k is a constant, and if we compare it with the laplacian ##
\frac{\partial^2 V}{\partial z^2}= -\frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right) ## we can put that ## \frac{1}{\rho}\frac{\partial }{\partial\rho}\left(\rho\frac{\partial V}{\partial \rho}\right)## = constant, but I don't know how to continue or if my reasoning is right
Answer question 2 in post #22 and you will see.

I think that you already answer it, it is that ## - \nabla V = F ##?

Angela G said:
I think that you already answer it, it is that ## - \nabla V = F ##?
No, the questions in post #22 have not been answered. You are given two potential energies, ##U_1=\frac{1}{2}kx^2## and ##U_2=-\frac{1}{2}kx^2.## These give rise to forces ##\vec F_1=-\vec\nabla U_1## and ##\vec F_2=-\vec\nabla U_2.## The two questions for you to answer are:
1. Which one of the two forces, ##\vec F_1##, ##\vec F_2## is restoring, which one is not and why?
2. Can you figure out a rule for distinguishing the restoring from the non-restoring forces given any potential ##U(x)##, not just the ones I gave you?

If you can figure out the answers (we are here to help), you will be able to understand what's going on here.

This video might help.

I'm willing to bet it's unstable. To prove stable equilibrium you need to prove it's stable in EVERY direction at the origin. To prove unstable you only need to prove it's unstable in one direction at the origin. That should be your goal.

Use symmetry considerations.

Also as someone said look at the field and see if it points back or away from the suggested equilibrium point.

I believe we have already covered the potential on the ##z-axis## and concluded that the field pointed back towards the origin so it's stable in that direction of displacement.

Consider instead the potential in the plane of the ring and inside the ring

I'll get started and maybe others can chime in
##V = \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon_0} \int \frac{\lambda}{\left|\vec{R} - \vec{r} \right|} \, dl' = \frac{\lambda R}{4 \pi \epsilon_0}\int \frac{1}{ \sqrt{R^2 + r^2 - 2 \vec{R} \cdot \vec{r}} } \, d \phi' ##

##\vec{R} = \left( R \cos \phi', R \sin \phi', 0\right)##
##\vec{r} = \left( r \cos \phi, r \sin \phi, 0\right)##

Make ##\phi = 0##, you can do this arbitrarily due to cylindrical symmetry

And you get

##V = \frac{\lambda R}{4 \pi \epsilon_0}\int \frac{1}{ \sqrt{R^2 + r^2 - 2Rr \cos \phi' }} \, d \phi ' ##Can you invoke a smallness parameter and get rid of that middle term?

Can you take a (negative) derivative with respect to ##r## (you can move this inside the integral) to find the field?

Can you then evaluate the integral and find out which direction the field points? (u-substitution)

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PhDeezNutz said:
Also as someone said look at the field and see if it points back or away from the suggested equilibrium point.
But isn't the field at this point zero? should I do some assumption for the charge line density? because I didnt get the sign of it , and if so I will choose a positive charge line

PhDeezNutz said:
I believe we have already covered the potential on the z−axis and concluded that the field pointed back towards the origin so it's stable in that direction of displacement.
where did we that ?

I'm sorry, I'm feeling lost in this problem

Angela G said:
But isn't the field at this point zero? should I do some assumption for the charge line density? because I didnt get the sign of it , and if so I will choose a positive charge line
If I wasn't given a sign for the charge I'd assume it was positive.

Yes the field is zero at the middle of the ring, but I'm not talking about the middle of the ring. I'm talking about a point ever so slightly off the center of the ring but still in the plane of the ring. If the field there points away from the origin then you have unstable equilibrium. I would think anyway.

Let me get back to you in like half an hour to an hour and try working it out. Let me make sure what I'm saying makes sense.

Angela G said:
I'm sorry, I'm feeling lost in this problem
PhDeezNutz said:
I'm willing to bet it's unstable. To prove stable equilibrium you need to prove it's stable in EVERY direction at the origin. To prove unstable you only need to prove it's unstable in one direction at the origin. That should be your goal.

Use symmetry considerations.

Also as someone said look at the field and see if it points back or away from the suggested equilibrium point.

I believe we have already covered the potential on the ##z-axis## and concluded that the field pointed back towards the origin so it's stable in that direction of displacement.

Consider instead the potential in the plane of the ring and inside the ring

I'll get started and maybe others can chime in
##V = \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon_0} \int \frac{\lambda}{\left|\vec{R} - \vec{r} \right|} \, dl' = \frac{\lambda R}{4 \pi \epsilon_0}\int \frac{1}{ \sqrt{R^2 + r^2 - 2 \vec{R} \cdot \vec{r}} } \, d \phi' ##

##\vec{R} = \left( R \cos \phi', R \sin \phi', 0\right)##
##\vec{r} = \left( r \cos \phi, r \sin \phi, 0\right)##

Make ##\phi = 0##, you can do this arbitrarily due to cylindrical symmetry

And you get

##V = \frac{\lambda R}{4 \pi \epsilon_0}\int \frac{1}{ \sqrt{R^2 + r^2 - 2Rr \cos \phi' }} \, d \phi ' ##Can you invoke a smallness parameter and get rid of that middle term?

Can you take a (negative) derivative with respect to ##r## (you can move this inside the integral) to find the field?

Can you then evaluate the integral and find out which direction the field points? (u-substitution)
Is it legal to reduce the integral by using a smallness assumption before the integration? Also, I know what all these terms mean but it may not be obvious to everyone what you mean by ##r, R, \phi'## ect.

PhDeezNutz