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Calculating Potentials


Students should be able to:

  • Find the electric potential from a system of discrete point sources.
  • Write the difference vector between two vectors (and its magnitude).
  • (Optional) Write charge densities in terms of delta functions.
  • Compute line integrals.
  • Find power series approximations.

In-class Content

Lecture: Chop, Calculate, and Add

  • To find the area under a curve, one may chop up the x-axis into small pieces (of width dx). The area under the curve is then found by calculating the area for each region of dx (which is dx times f(x)) and then summing up all of those areas. In the limit where dx is small enough, the sum becomes an integral.
  • One could also find the area under a curve by chopping up both the x- and y-axes (chop), calculating the area of each small area under the curve (calculate), and adding all of those together with a double sum or double integral (add).
  • This approach can be used to find the area of a cone, where the 'horizontal' length of each area is $r d\phi$ and the 'vertical' length is dr, giving an area of $dA = r d\phi dr$. It is important to make sure that the limits of integration are appropriate so that the integrals range over the whole area of interest.
  • If one wants to calculate something other than length, area, or volume, such as if one sprinkled charge over a thin bar, then chop, calculate, and add still works. Again, chop the bar up into small lengths of dx. Then calculate the change dQ on each length (dQ = lambda dx), and add all of the dQs together in a sum or integral.
  • This also works for calculating something (such as charge) over a volume. For a thick cylindrical shell with a charge density rho(vec r), chop the shell into small volumes d tau (which will be a product of 3 small lengths), multiply this volume by the charge density at each part of the shell, and add the resulting dQs together.


Homework for Symmetries

  1. (FiniteDisk)

  2. (InfiniteDisk)

  3. (PotentialConeGEM227)

  4. (WritingII)

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