Physics: The First Science

By Peter Lindenfeld; Suzanne White Brahmia | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Electricity: It Is Everywhere
The electric force
A world full of charges
Electricity and gravitation
Separating charges: polarization
The electric field
What is a field?
Coulomb’s law revisited: force and field
Field lines and flux
Lines to represent the field
Electric flux
Charge, field, and flux: Gauss’s law
The gravitational field: solving Newton’s problem
Gauss’s law and symmetry

We think of the phenomena of mechanics as being everywhere around us, while
electricity is more remote and unusual. It turns out instead that it is the electric
force that dominates almost everything that impinges on our lives, although in
ways that we are not so immediately aware of.

The first thing that comes to mind is the gadgetry of civilization. But more
fundamentally, it is the electric forces between atoms that give rise to the exis-
tence of molecules, liquids, and solids with their endlessly varied properties,
and it is the electric forces within atoms that are responsible for the existence of
atoms and for the structure of the elements.

In this chapter we examine the properties of the electric force, and introduce
the concept of the electric field, which profoundly changed the way we think
about forces.


8.1 The electric force

A world full of charges

We rarely associate everyday experiences with electric forces. We know that electricity causes the shock that we sometimes feel after walking across a carpet, and that it is responsible for lightning. But its sweep goes enormously farther. It is at the root of almost everything that we are aware of, our very existence in all its vast variety.

On the one hand, our civilization depends, in some places almost entirely, on electricity. We use it for light, for heat and cold, and for motors

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