# Physics 15b Assignment #4

Read sections 3.5-3.8 of Purcell by Monday February 28. This is a short reading assignment.
We hope that this will allow you to catch up on the lab and to really solidify your understanding of
static fields around conductors, which is one of the most important and confusing subjects that we
will deal with.
Q&A questions to be answered on the Physics 15b website before 11pm on Monday,
February 28:
4QA-1. In problem 3.8 in Purcell, what is the ratio of the surface charge density on the upper
side of the middle plate to that on the lower side of the middle plate?
A:

exactly 8/5

B:

exactly 5/8

C:

approximately 8/5

D:

approximately 5/8

E:

None of the above.

In addition, there are some survey questions and feedback questions.
Problems due at the beginning of class on Thursday, March 3 —
4-1a.
Find the capacitance per unit length of the system of two coaxial conducting cylinders
shown below (as always explaining any assumptions and approximations):
.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
....
. .
...
.............. .....
.
.
..
.. .. .... ....
...
... ... .... ....
... ...
.
..
..
....
.... ....
...
... ... ... ...
.
...
... ... . ..
...
... ... .. ..
...
................ ..
...
...
. ..
....
................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
......................................................................................................................................................................................................................

z

..........................

b

..........................

a

..........................

0

.....................................................................................................................................................................................................................

In the limit b − a ¿ a, your result in part a should be related to the capacitance of a parallel
plate capacitor with area A and small separation s.
b.

State what the relation is and why it must be true.

c.
Then show that the relation you have suggested appears explicitly by doing an appropriate
Taylor series expansion of your result in part a.
4-2.

Problem 3.14 in Purcell.
1

Given that the capacitance of an isolated conducting disk of radius a is 2a/π, what is
the energy stored in the electric field of such a disk when the net charge on the disk
is Q? Compare this with the energy in the field of a non-conducting disk of the same
radius which has an equal charge Q distributed with uniform density over its surface.
(See Problem 2.27.) Which ought to be larger? Why?
Note that you do not have to reproduce derivations or results that are stated in Purcell. Instead, the
interesting part of the answer to this one is an explanation in complete sentences of the difference
between the two energies. We are not interested in a collection of formulas, but are looking instead
for a simple physical argument.
4-3.

..............................................

x

..............................................

.......................................................................................... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... .. ..........
...
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..................................................................................... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ....... ...............

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`

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Shown above is a top view of a parallel plate capacitor in the form of a square with side ` and plate
separation s (which you can’s see of course). A solid rectangular conductor with thickness s/3 and
c might
width w is covered on the top and bottom with a frictionless non-conducting skin (Teflon °
work) of thickness s/3 so that the whole sandwich just fits between the plates, and slides smoothly
touching both, but without making electrical contact. This is shown in the side view below.
upper plate
..
........

frictionless nonconductor
conductor

s

frictionless nonconductor

........
...

lower plate
Suppose that the top and bottom capacitor plates have charge ±Q and that the conductor is slid in
a distance x as shown. Making appropriate assumptions and approximations (which you should
explain in detail) find the force on conductor.

2

4-4.
1

0.5

0

-0.5

-1
-2

-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

The plot above shows some slices of equipotential surfaces for the following funny-looking potential function
r
q

φ(x, y, z) = κ

x+

x2 + y 2

(4-4.1)

Note that the square roots here are always interpreted to have a positive sign. Because this potential
is independent of z, we have plotted a slice in the z = 0 plane.
a.

Find (by hand - showing your steps)
∂2
φ(x, y)
∂y 2

(4-4.2)

and show using Mathematica (unless you really really want to do it by hand) that this φ satisfies
Laplace’s equation ∇2 φ = 0 almost everywhere in the x-y plane.
b. Find the value of the potential for x < 0 and y = 0. Hint: This is quite easy, but important.
You can see from the figure that this is an equipotential surface, and you should be able to verify
this as you find the actual value of φ. Physically, this means that this system describes a semi-

3

infinite conducting sheet in the y = 0 plane for x < 0, as shown below:
1
0.75
0.5
0.25
0
-0.25
-0.5
-0.75
-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

c. Find the electric field for x > 0 and y = 0. Hint: You need to read this problem carefully.
Note that we are in a different region of x than we were in part b.
d.

Find the charge density on the upper surface of the conductor as a function of x.

4