# I What is the electrostatic force field?

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1. Nov 21, 2017

### Fraser MacDonald

I have just covered the electricity unit in my advanced higher physics course, and have happily accepted that a force is created between charged particles. I understand that coulombs law can be used to calculate this force, but here is my question.
What actually is this force between the charged particles? I understand that the gravitational force is the warping of space time, and so I can accept how the gravitational "pull" is generated, however I am not aware of any changes to the fabric of space that causes the interaction between charged particles. What is this force that mediates between the gap that causes the attraction/repulsion of charges?
When I search "what is an electric field?", the only answer I get is that it is a "fundamental force field", and when I have seen similar questions asked in forums the general answer is "Its a fundamental force, so just accept it".
Could someone explain what is it that these charges are actually emitting that causes the interaction between point charges, without just saying an electric field. Thank you!

2. Nov 21, 2017

### jerromyjon

Virtual photons? I doubt that is a legitimate answer but I don't know what you expect. It's like asking why electrons don't crash into protons... because these invisible, fundamental forces control the universe.

3. Nov 21, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

Umm, that is what it is. How do you expect anyone to answer a question where you already know and reject the answer?

We can describe what it does, and how it relates to other things, and its properties. Then, referring to all of that, we give it a name.

4. Nov 21, 2017

### Fraser MacDonald

But for gravity we know that the force that causes the attraction is really just the warped space-time, so I can easily accept what is happening between the masses that causes the attraction. However, with electric fields, there is nothing physical that is happening between these charges. What is the invisible force? What is actually bringing about the interaction between them? I am really struggling to conceptualise such a force field and what it really is.

5. Nov 21, 2017

### jerromyjon

Stare at a magnet hovering on a superconductor for a while and ponder it.

6. Nov 21, 2017

### Fraser MacDonald

haha! I often confuse myself by asking strange questions like these that perhaps don't make complete sense. It drives my teachers mad. It's great

7. Nov 21, 2017

### jerromyjon

They don't take lightly to that, here. Everyone who replies is trying to give you the best, most complete answer they can, within mainstream physics.

8. Nov 21, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

This is a double standard. Why is the word “warped spacetime” acceptable but the word “electromagnetic field” not? They are just words. In both cases the words refer to a set of differential equations and experimental measurements. If one is acceptable then so is the other.

Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
9. Nov 21, 2017

### pixel

I think OP has a good question. Coulomb's Law and Newton's Law of Gravity have the same form but with gravity we've gone a step further to explain the force in a more fundamental way that has led to more accurate calculations and predictions of new phenomena. Is it possible that will be done some day with the electric field?

10. Nov 21, 2017

### jerromyjon

Try QED.
I googled it and got latin translation of "Quod erat demonstratum": "What was to be demonstrated" or "Quantum Electrodynamics" (which was what I intended)

Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
11. Nov 22, 2017

### Fraser MacDonald

Yes! It is the fact that we can explain gravitational fields in a more fundamental way than the electric field. The two are so similar mathematically, I wasn't sure if there was an equivalent deep explanation for Electric fields.

12. Nov 22, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
Quantum Electrodynamics.

Zz.

13. Nov 22, 2017

Staff Emeritus
Sometimes I think the forum should refuse to post messages with the word "actually" or "really" in the title. You can always follow an answer with "but what is it really?" (And then "but what is it really really?" Turtles all the way down.)

I think you need to re-evaluate your starting point here. "Advanced higher physics" certainly sounds impressive, but it's really a very, very elementary presentation of the subject. The mathematical description of both gravity and electromagnetism is identical - something called classical field theory. The words we used to describe it are, well, just words. If you think some of these words imply one theory is somehow more fundamental than the other, that's your reaction to those "just words", not anything physical.

14. Nov 22, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

That still seems like a double standard. Why aren’t you asking “what actually is curved spacetime really”? Why does the mere words “curved spacetime” eliminate all further inquiry? All of the questions you are asking about electric fields could be asked about curved spacetime too, but you don’t. You just back off at the word “curved spacetime”

You seem to hold electromagnetism to an oddly different standard than gravity.

Last edited: Nov 23, 2017
15. Nov 27, 2017

### Lukeblackhill

That is a hard question to answer, @Fraser MacDonald. The electrostatic field is considered in our standard physics merely as the manifestation of an electric charge. The best way we have to see fundamental electric charges like electrons is through particle colliders. And when we "look" at those charges through the detectors of the apparatus, what we see is not little spherical balls like we are made to think. Such image is merely to facilitate our visualization. What we do see is a spreading of electrical influence, which is measured by the detectors (sensible to electromagnetic manifestations), the finger prints of the field. That is an "electron".

16. Nov 27, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
This is highly misleading. It gives the impression that for a particle such as "electron", it is nothing more than "charge" or the electric field that it emanates.

An electron is more than its charge or its associated electric field. In spintronics, its magnetic moment is of utmost importance. And since we are referring to particle colliders, its mass, or more importantly, its momentum, is also part of its properties. Any of these properties (spin and momentum) can be used to detect an electron. It is not just restricted to its charge/electric field.

Zz.

Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
17. Nov 29, 2017

### Lukeblackhill

I agree @ZapperZ, the definition I gave is merely to give a sense about the electric field and what it is.