Electric field

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In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. This electric field exerts a force on other electrically charged objects. Michael Faraday introduced the concept of an electric field.

The electric field is a vector field with SI units of newtons per coulomb (N C−1) or, equivalently, volts per metre (V m−1). The SI base units of the electric field are kg·m·s−3·A−1. The strength or magnitude of the field at a given point is defined as the force that would be exerted on a positive test charge of 1 coulomb placed at that point; the direction of the field is given by the direction of that force. Electric fields contain electrical energy with energy density proportional to the square of the field amplitude. The electric field is to charge as gravitational acceleration is to mass and force density is to volume.

An electric field that changes with time (such as due to the motion of charged particles in the field) influences the local magnetic field. That is, the electric and magnetic fields are not completely separate phenomena; what one observer perceives as an electric field, another observer in a different frame of reference perceives as a mixture of electric and magnetic fields. For this reason, one speaks of "electromagnetism" or "electromagnetic fields". In quantum mechanics, disturbances in the electromagnetic fields are called photons, and the energy of photons is quantized.

Contents

Definition

The electric field is defined as the force per unit charge that would be experienced by a stationary point charge at a given location in the field[1]:

where

Taken literally, this equation only defines the electric field at the places where there are stationary charges present to experience it. Furthermore, the force exerted by another charge q will alter the source distribution, which means the electric field in the presence of q differs from itself in the absence of q. However, the electric field of a given source distribution remains defined in the absence of any charges with which to interact. This is achieved by measuring the force exerted on successively smaller test charges placed in the vicinity of the source distribution. By this process, the electric field created by a given source distribution is defined as the limit as the test charge approaches zero of the force per unit charge exerted thereupon.

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