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MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Department of Physics: 8.02



In Class Problem Solution Class 02 p. 1 of 2

W01D2 Electric Field from Two Charged Objects Solution

Consider two point charges of equal magnitude but opposite signs, separated by a
distance d. Point P lies along the perpendicular bisector of the line joining the charges, a
distance s above that line. What is the electric field at P?



Getting Started
We draw a picture showing the electric fields

!
E
+
,

!
E
!
, and the vector sum

!
E =
!
E
+
+
!
E
!
.



Make a Plan: We want to find the electric field at point P due to the two charged
objects,

q
+
= q and

q
!
= !q . By symmetry, the field will point in the x direction.
Why? The y-components of the fields from the two charged objects cancel. For this
reason we should just calculate the x component of the electric fields,

E
+, x
,

E
!, x
. We can
add these components to get the electric field. We use our expressions for the electric
fields

!
E
+
= k
q
+
r
+
3
!
r
+
and

!
E
!
= k
q
!
r
!
3
!
r
!
,
and the superposition principle

!
E =
!
E
+
+
!
E
!
. We draw a picture (above right) showing
the vectors

!
r
+
and

!
r
!
.

Execute Plan:

!
r
+
= !
d
2

i + s

j ,

r
+
= (s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
1/ 2

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Department of Physics: 8.02

In Class Problem Solution Class 02 p. 2 of 2


!
r
!
= +
d
2

i + s

j ,

r
!
= (s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
1/ 2



!
E
+
= k
q
r
+
3
!
r
+
= k
q
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2
!
d
2

i + s

j
"
#
$
%
&
'


!
E
!
= k
(!q)
r
!
3
!
r
!
= !k
q
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2
d
2

i + s

j
"
#
$
%
&
'


Therefore

E
+, x
=
!kq(d / 2)
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2
,

E
!, x
=
!kq(d / 2)
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2


and so

!
E =
!
E
+, x
+
!
E
!, x
=
!kqd
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2

i
Evaluate Result: We could use the complete vector expressions and find that


!
E =
!
E
+
+
!
E
!
= k
q
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2
!
d
2

i + s

j
"
#
$
%
&
'
+ !k
q
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2
d
2

i + s

j
"
#
$
%
&
'
=
!kqd
(s
2
+ d
2
/ 4)
3/ 2

i


in agreement with our expected result. As predicted the electric field is purely in the

!i
direction.