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Graphing Electric Potential

M. De Jong
Journal / Anthology

The Physics Teacher
Year: 1993
Volume: 31
Page range: 270-272

The introductory physics course is typically taught so that mechanics begins the first semester while electricity and magnetism kicks off the second semester. For students this is a dramatic change from the concrete to the abstract, from visible falling objects to invisible charges, from identifiable forces to imaginary fields, from potential energy to electric potential. Most of us do several things to make the concepts less abstract, including an experiment in which we use a galvanometer to locate equipotential curves, have the students trace equipotential curves, and then use these curves to draw electric field lines. Also, it is likely that we have the students sketch electric field lines for some very simple charge distributions. Finally, to help explain electric potential, we probably use a topographical map metaphor in which we compare the equipotential curves in the vicinity of some charges with the lines of constant elevation (or potential energy) on a contour map.

*Science > Physics > Electromagnetism