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Electric Potential Energy : Electric Dipole, Potential Gradient

Two electric charges attract or repel each other. Therefore, some work has to be done in moving the charges away from each other, or in bringing them closer to each other.

This work gets stored in the form of potential energy in the system of those charges. This is called the electric potential energy of the system.

Electric Potential Energy

The electric potential energy of a system of charges is equal to the work that is done to make the system by bringing those charges closer to infinity.

Let a system AB be made up of two charges of coulomb +q1 and +q2 which are located at a distance of r meter from each other.

To find the electric potential energy of these systems, assume that the charge +q2 is not at point B but at infinity. Now the electric potential at point B due to charge +q1 :

According to the definition of electric potential, the work done in bringing the charge q2 from infinity to point B is

W = q2V

This work itself is the electric potential energy U of the system (q1 + q2).

If both the charges are of the same type then they repel each other. Then in bringing them closer to each other, work has to be done against the repulsive force, which increases the electric potential energy of the system.

On the contrary, in moving them away from each other, work is done by the system itself, which decreases the potential energy of the system.

If charges are of opposite type, they attract each other. In this case the potential energy of the system decreases when they are brought closer and increases when they are taken away.

Electric-potential-energy-two-charges

Electric potential energy is a scalar quantity. In the formula, the values of charges q1 and q2 are kept with sign. If there are two or more charges in a system, then finding the electric potential energy of each pair of charges and adding them by algebraic method.

Example : If three charges q1 , -q2 , +q3 are at three corners of a triangle, then the electric potential energy of the system

Potential Gradient and Intensity of Electric Field

Let us consider the electric field E along the X-axis due to the +q point charge at point O. Let there be two points A and B respectively at x and x + Δx distances from point O. Let the electric potential at points A and B be V and V – Δv respectively.

Potential-Gradient

Let a small positive test charge q0 be taken from point B to point A in electric field E. A force on charge q0 acts in the direction of the F field

where F = q0 E

Therefore, in moving the charge q0 from point B to A, the external agent will have to do work against the force F. If this work is w then

ΔW = F (-Δx)

where –Δx is the displacement from point B to A.

-E Δx = Δv

E = – Δv / Δx

The amount Δv / Δx is the rate of change of the potential with distance and is called the potential gradient.

The intensity of the electric field in a given direction at any point in the electric field is equal to the negative potential gradient in that direction.

The minus sign indicates that the potential decreases in the direction of the electric field.

dimensions of potential gradient = [MLT-3A-1]

Trajectory of a charged particle in a uniform electric field :

The motion of a charged particle in a uniform electric field is the same as that of a projectile in a uniform gravitational field.

Suppose two parallel plates of metal are located at some distance from each other and have opposite charge on them.

The electric field is the same in the space between the plates, except in places near the edges. If the upper plate is positively charged and the lower one is negative-charged, then the electric field E will be directed downwards in the plane of the paper.

uniform-electric-field