Imagine a universe that only consists of two protons, initiall at rest and very close to each other. We know what will happen, they will repel each other and accelerate away in opposite directions. In the initial state they had zero kinetic energy but that doesn't last. Where did that energy come from? It came from the fact that they have in increased electric potential energy when they start out and that energy is convered into kinetic energy. That's almost at the heart of what potential energy is, a potential to manifest real, tangible, kinetic energy. Since energy is a scalar, their must be a scalar field that can facilitate this interaction. That field is the * electric potential*. You may have more experience with it than you think because it is measured in Volts.

OpenStax shows some awesome application of the electric potential below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZJ5znGvYAU

## Pre-lecture Study Resources

Watch the pre-lecture videos and read through the OpenStax text before doing the pre-lecture homework or attending class.

### BoxSand Videos

## Required Videos

E-potential energy from conservative work(11min)

E-potential and the concept of map(5min)

## Suggested Supplemental Videos

### Learning Objectives

## Summary

Summary

## Atomistic Goals

Students will be able to...

### BoxSand Introduction

## Electric Potential | Electric Potential Energy

Lets recall the concept of a field.

**Things create fields that alter the space around them in such a way that facilitates interactions with other things. The field is owned by the original thing and in that way precludes the existence of the second thing and any interactions that may occur between the two. **

We've learned about how the electric field can be used to describe force interactions. The concept is that the first charged particle $A$ creates an electric field $\overrightarrow{E}_{A}$ that the second ** test** charged particle $O$ resides in. Particle $O$ then feels a force $\overrightarrow{F_O}$ equal to the charge of $O$ ($q_O$), multiplied by the electric field of $A$.

$\overrightarrow{F}_O=q_O \overrightarrow{E}_A$

The electric potential $V$ is connected the electric potential energy $U$ in a similar way. The electric potential is the field created by charge $A$ that * test* charge $q_O$ resides in. The potential energy of the

**system**is then the charge $q_O$, multiplied by the electric potential from $A$.

$U_{OA} = q_O V_A$

Recall that energy is a scalar quantity and so is the charge of a particle. That means that the electric potential $V$ must also be a scalar. The electric potential is a scalar field, it's a number at every point in space. It is used to describe how a charged particle alters the space around them (in an abstract way) and is used to quantify the potential energy between the charge originating the field and those residing in the field. Pulling from the example in the Overview, we know that if two protons are next to each other they will repel one another and speed up. They will increase their kinetic energy as they both move towards the state with a minimum of potential energy, a state far away from each other. This is all due to the interaction between them - the electric potential is the field we use to describe the interaction with an energy analysis.

To get a better feel for how the electric potential works, lets think about fields as a map. Below is an example of an electric potential field from some group of charges that are not shown in the figure. For now don't be concerned with how the charges created this particular field, we will cover field patterns from charge distributions shortly. Instead concentrate on how the energy of a charged particle in an electric field can be analyzed. Remember that the electric potential is a scalar field and as such is just a number everywhere in space. For the electric potential it is measured in volts, the same volts you're used to with batteries and electronics. The field is there before the positive charge shown even exists.

Now imagine the positive charge $q_O$ is initially at a location where the electric potential is 8 Volts. That means it has an electric potential energy at that location is $U_{initial}=(8 volts)(q_O)$, where $q_O$ is in SI units of Coulombs. If the positive charge $q_0$ was to move though the displacement $\Delta \overrightarrow{r}$ to the final location, it will have decreased in electric potential energy. The electric potential at the final location is 4 Volts and thus the electric potential energy is $U_{final}=(4 volts)(q_O)$. The potential energy has decreased and so, barring no other interactions, the kinetic energy must increase. This does lead to an important conclusion.

**Electric Potential from Point Charges**

Most charge distributions are not that of point charge but they are comprised of the electric potential from each individual particle making up the charge distribution. Think a charged plate is sheet of point charges. To understand how a collection of charges creates a field, lets first look at how each individual point particle creates a field. The electric potential of a point charge $q$ is equal to:

$V=\frac{kq}{r}$, where r is the distance from the point charge and k is a constant.

The first thing to note is that the electric potential $V$ decreases like $\frac{1}{r}$ as opposed to the electric field magnitude that falls off like $\frac{1}{r^2}$. The potential decreases more slowly than the electric field strength. This can be seen by comparing the nature of each function in the graph below where $\frac{1}{r}$ gets smaller more rapidly than $\frac{1}{r^2}$.

Another difference is the electric field is a vector field while the electric potential is a scalar field. That is very good news when it comes to calculations as it's much easier to deal with a bunch of numbers than it is to deal with a bunch of vectors - the mathematics are more simple. The below equation is more rigorous than the one above and it reads: *the electric potential at point p is equal to the constant $k = \frac{1}{4\pi \epsilon{0}}$, multiplied by the charge $q$, and divided by the absolute value of the displacement between the charge $q$ and the point p*.

When performing calculations of the field you get a number, positive for positive charges and negative for negative charges, for every point in space. The graph of the electric potential from a positive charge is the $\frac{1}{r}$ above while the negative sign for a negative makes the graph for a negative charge as a function of distance proportional to $-\frac{1}{r}$. Below is a graph of $-\frac{1}{r}$ to show the nature of the function.

**Electric Potential for Charge Distributions**

The electric potential field from a single charged particle $q$ is above. To find the field from a group of charges you can simply add up the contributions from each individual particle at the location of interest. Potentials add through the principle of superposition, which means you just add them up with no other scaling factors.

$V_{total}(p) = \Sigma V_i(p) = V_1(p) + V_2(p) + ...$

An example of a charge distribution is a set of parallel charged plates. Take two metal sheets and charge one of them positively and the other negatively. This creates an electric potential between them, after all if you put an electron or proton in between them they would both speed up, albeit in opposite direction. The 2-D figure below depicts the voltage (electric potential) in the region between the two plates. The 3-D graph uses the third (vertical) axis to describe the voltage, whereas 2-D represents it as a number.

Both figures show the equipotentials, with the 3-D projecting them onto the floor of the graph.

## Key Equations and Infographics

Now, take a look at the pre-lecture reading and videos below.

### OpenStax Reading

OpenStax Section 19.1 | Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference

OpenStax Section 19.3 | Electric Potential Due to a Point Charge

## Additional Study Resources

Use the supplemental resources below to support your post-lecture study.

### YouTube Videos

Pre-Med Academy has a lot of videos about the Electric Field and Force, too many to list here. We really recommend checking out the content repository for this section and check out the rest of their videos Here are just a few on *Work and Potential Energy*, *Electric Potential Difference,* and *Potential of a Point Charge*

Youtube: Pre-Med Academy - Work and Potential Energy

Youtube: Pre-Med Academy - Electric Potential Difference

Youtube: Pre-Med Academy - Potential of a point charge

Step By Step Science has a bunch of practice problems having to do with electric potential and we suggest you check out your content repository for this section to see a list of relevant videos from them. Here are a few on *work done moving a point charge through a potential difference,* *calculating potential difference between two points, *and *work to bring in a charge from infinity.*

Youtube: Step by Step Science - charge through potential

Youtube: Step by Step Science - potential difference

Youtube: Step by Step Science - charge from infinity

### Other Resources

This link will take you to the repository of other content related resources .

### Simulations

This flashphysics applet lets you create charge distributions from point charges and plot the corresponding equipotential lines. Try placing test charges in the region of space to watch possible trajectories!

This PhET interactive combines electric fields, electric potential and charge (known collectively as electrostatics). Place charges around and observe the resulting electric and potential fields.

For additional simulations on this subject, visit the simulations repository.

### Demos

### History

Oh no, we haven't been able to write up a history overview for this topic. If you'd like to contribute, contact the director of BoxSand, KC Walsh (walshke@oregonstate.edu).

### Physics Fun

Daybreak cover on Giant Tesla Coils

### Other Resources

## Resource Repository

The Physics Classroom has two sections for us, one on electric potential and the other on electric potential difference.

Electric Potential | Electric Potential Difference |

Boston University's Page on electric potential is a neat reference with a couple of example problems

PPLATO is a complete resource with a lot of information, and several practice questions per subject. This webpage covers electric charge, the electric field, and electric potential, we've already covered charge, and the electric field, so now it's time to focus on electric potential!

Isaac Physics' section on the electric field is a good short resource. This page contains previously studied material on electric fields as well as information on electric potential, and the connection between electric field and electric potential.

### Other Resources

This link will take you to the repository of other content related resources .

This link will take you to the repository of other content related resources.

## Problem Solving Guide

Use the Tips and Tricks below to support your post-lecture study.

### Assumptions

### Checklist

### Misconceptions & Mistakes

- The electric potential from a point charge is proportional to $\frac{1}{r}$, not $\frac{1}{r^2}$.

### Pro Tips

### Multiple Representations

Multiple Representations is the concept that a physical phenomena can be expressed in different ways.

### Physical

### Mathematical

### Graphical

### Descriptive

### Experimental

## Practice

Use the practice problem sets below to strengthen your knowledge of this topic.

### Fundamental examples

**1.** Two plates of metal with uniform charge distribution are held a distance d apart from each other as shown in the figure below. The metal plate on the left side is positively charged while the metal plate on the right is negatively charged.

a. Which plate is considered to be at a higher potential ($V$)?

b. The electron labeled $1$ is placed in-between the two sheets as shown. Does this electron have a high or low electric potential energy? Ignore the other charges in-between the plates.

c. The electron labeled $2$ is placed in-between the two sheets as shown. Does this electron have a high or low electric potential energy? Ignore the other charges in-between the plates.

d. The proton labeled $1$ is placed in-between the two sheets as shown. Does this proton have a high or low electric potential energy? Ignore the other charges in-between the plates.

e. The proton labeled $2$ is placed in-between the two sheets as shown. Does this proton have a high or low electric potential energy? Ignore the other charges in-between the plates.

**2.** Two parallel plates are held $20.0 \, mm$ apart and the potential difference between the plates is $110 \, V$.

a. What is the magnitude of the electric field between the two parallel plates?

b. Which direction does the electric field point if the plate on the left has a uniform negative charge distribution and the plate on the right has a uniform positive charge distribution?

c. Sketch a physical representation of this problem. Include a few equipotential lines between the two parallel plates.

**3.** Two uniformly charged parallel plates are held some distance “$d$” apart from each other with an electric potential of $300 \, V$ between them. An electron is placed at rest near the negative charged plate. Calculate the speed at which the electron will hit the positive plate.

**4.** The figure below shows a charge distribution made up of $3$ point charges. The charges are fixed in space and cannot move. Let $q = 1 \, \mu C$ and $L = 1.0 \, cm$.

a. Find the electric potential energy of this charge distribution.

b. Find the electric potential at point P.

CLICK HERE for solutions.

Short foundation building questions, often used as clicker questions, can be found in the clicker questions repository for this subject.

### Practice Problems

BoxSand practice problems - Answers

BoxSand's multiple select problems

BoxSand's quantitative problems

Recommended example practice problems

- OpenStax and it's 4 related sections. Problems at bottom of page,
- Electric Potential Energy, Website Link
- Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field, Website Link
- Electric Potential Due to a Point Charge, Website Link
- Equipotential Lines, Website Link

- Physics-Prep
- Electric Potential, Website Link
- Electric Potential Due to Point Charges, Website Link
- Equipotential Surfaces, Website Link

For additional practice problems and worked examples, visit the link below. If you've found example problems that you've used please help us out and submit them to the student contributed content section.