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Department of Physics

Problem Solving 9: Displacement Current, Poynting Vector and

Energy Flow Solutions

OBJECTIVES

1. To introduce the displacement current term that Maxwell added to Amperes Law

2. To find the magnetic field inside a charging cylindrical capacitor using this new term

in Amperes Law.

3. To introduce the concept of energy flow through closed surfaces associated with

electric and magnetic fields.

4. To quantify that energy flow by introducing the Poynting vector.

5. To show how Joule heating and energy flow are aspects of conservation of energy.

REFERENCE: 8.02 Course Notes Sections Course Notes: Sections 13.1-13.6, 13.9,

13.12.3-13.12.4

Introduction: The Charging Capacitor and the Displacement Current

In magnetostatics (the electric and magnetic fields do not change with time), Amperes

law established a relation between the line integral of the magnetic field around a closed

path and the current flowing across any open surface with that closed path as a boundary

of the open surface,

!

B! d

!

s

closed

path

""

=

0

!

J ! d

!

A

open

surface

""

.

For reasons we have discussed in class, Maxwell argued that in time-dependent situations

this equation was incomplete and that an additional term should be added:

!

B! d

!

s

closed

loop

""

=

0

!

J ! n da

open

surface

""

+

0

#

0

d

dt

!

E! n da

S

""

(1)

!

B ! d

!

s

closed

loop

""

=

0

I

enc

+

0

I

dis

, (2)

where the enclosed current (conduction current) is given by

I

enc

=

0

!

J ! n da

open

surface

""

, (3)

and the displacement current is given by

I

dis

= !

0

d

dt

!

E" n da

S

##

(4)

Problem 1: The Charging Capacitor and the Displacement Current

A capacitor consists of two circular plates of radius a separated by a distance d (assume

d << a). The center of each plate is connected to the terminals of a voltage source by a

thin wire. A switch in the circuit is closed at time t = 0 and a current

I(t) flows in the

circuit. The charge on the plate is related to the current according to

I(t) = dQ(t) / dt .

We begin by calculating the electric field between the plates. Throughout this problem

you may ignore edge effects. We assume that the electric field is zero for r > a.

Question 1: Use Gauss Law to find the electric field between the plates when the charge

on them is

Q (as pictured). The vertical direction is the

k direction.

Answer:

!

E =

!

"

0

k =

Q

#a

2

"

0

k

Now take an imaginary flat disc of radius r < a inside the capacitor, as shown below.

Question 2: Using your expression for E

!

above, calculate the electric flux through this

flat disc of radius r < a in the plane midway between the plates. Take the surface unit

normal to the disk to be in the

k direction,

n =

k .

Answer.

!

E! d

!

A

flat

disk

""

= E#r

2

=

Q#r

2

$

0

#a

2

=

Q

$

0

a

2

r

2

This electric flux is changing in time because as the plates are charging up, the electric

field is increasing with time.

Question 3: Calculate the Maxwell displacement current,

I

dis

= !

0

d"

E

dt

= !

0

d

dt

!

E# n da

disk

$$

through the flat disc of radius r < a in the plane midway between the plates, in terms of

r,

I(t) , and a.

Answer.

I

dis

= !

0

d

dt

!

E" n da

disk

##

= !

0

d

dt

Q(t)

!

0

a

2

r

2

$

%

&

'

(

)

=

r

2

a

2

I(t)

Question 4: What is the conduction current

!

J ! n da

S

""

through the flat disc of radius r <

a? Conduction current just means the current due to the flow of real charge across the

surface (e.g. electrons or ions).

Answer: zero.

Since the capacitor plates have an axial symmetry and we know that the magnetic field

due to a wire runs in azimuthal circles about the wire, we assume that the magnetic field

between the plates is non-zero, and also runs in azimuthal circles.

Question 5: Choose for an Amperian loop a circle of radius r < a in the plane midway

between the plates. Calculate the line integral of the magnetic field around the circle,

!

B ! d

!

s

circle

""

. Express your answer in terms of

!

B and

r . What direction should you

integrate consistent with the choice for the flux integrals that

n =

k ?

Answer: We integrate in the counterclockwise direction as seen from above. Then

!

B ! d

!

s

circle

""

= B(2#r) .

Question 6: Now use the results of your answers above, and apply the generalized

Ampere Law Equation (Eq(1)) to find the magnitude of the magnetic field at a distance r

< a from the axis.

Answer:

B(2!r) =

0

I

dis

=

0

r

2

a

2

I " B =

0

I r

2!a

2

Question 7: If you use your right thumb to point along the direction of the electric field,

as the plates charge up, does the magnetic field point in the direction your fingers curl on

your right hand or opposite the direction your fingers curl on your right hand?

Answer.

The magnetic field points, as the plates charge up, in the same direction as your fingers

curl on your right hand.

Question 8: Would the direction of the magnetic field change if the plates were

discharging? Why or why not?

Answer.

The magnetic field would reverse direction because the electric flux is now decreasing.

Problem 2: Poynting Vector and Energy Flow

Introduction: Energy Flow and Work Done by Electric Fields

When we connect a resistor of resistance R to a battery forming a closed circuit, there is

current I through the resistor, and a potential difference !V = IR across the resistor.

The rate that electrical energy is converted to thermal energy in the resistor (Joule

heating) is given by

P

Joule

=

dU

dt

=

dq!V

dt

= I !V = I

2

R .

The Joule heating in the wire is equal to the rate that the electric force is doing work in

moving the charges in the wire.

Define a new vector field, the Poynting vector, that is a measure of the flow of energy per

area given by

!

S =

!

E!

!

B

0

.

The SI units of the Poynting vector are Watts per square meter,

J ! s

-1

! m

-2

= W! m

-2

. In

particular, the flux of the Poynting vector through a surface is the electromagnetic power

through that surface

P =

!

S! nda

surface

""

=

!

E#

!

B

0

$

%

&

'

(

)

! nda

surface

""

.

In particular, if we choose as our surface the closed surface of the current carrying wire,

you shall show that the electromagnetic energy that flows into the wire (flux of the

Poynting vector through a closed surface) is exactly equal to the negative of the Joule

heating in the wire,

P =

!

S! n

out

da

wire

"""

=

!

E#

!

B

0

$

%

&

'

(

)

! n

out

da

surface

""

= *I

2

R .

The minus sign should not worry you. If the Poynting vector is directed into a closed

surface then the flux is negative. This is because by convention when calculating flux

through a closed surface we choose the outward pointing unit normal vector to the

surface,

n

out

, and hence

!

S! n

out

< 0 .

Consider a cylindrical resistor of length L and radius a with resistance R and current I

through the resistor.

Question 1: Determine the magnitude and direction of the electric field

!

E on the surface

of the resistor. Recall that the absolute value of the potential difference across the resistor

is given by

!V =

!

E" d

!

s

#

= IR . Introduce unit vectors as needed but clearly define your

choice of directions.

Answer:

We choose unit vectors as shown in the figure below

There is an electric potential difference across the resistor that is equal to !V = IR. The

electric field is uniform in the resistor so

!V =

!

E" d

!

s

#

= EL = IR . Therefore the

direction and magnitude of the electric field is given by

!

E =

IR

L

k

Question 2: Determine the magnitude and direction of the magnetic field

!

B on the

surface of the resistor. Introduce unit vectors as needed but clearly Introduce unit vectors

as needed but clearly define your choice of directions.

Answer:

We can use Amperes Law to find the magnetic field surface of the resistor. Choose a

circular loop as shown in the figure of radius

r = a .

Amperes law is

!

B! d

!

s

circle

""

=

0

!

J ! nda

disk

""

.

By symmetry,

!

B ! d

!

s

circle

""

= B2#a

The current through the disk is

!

J ! nda

disk

""

= I .

So Amperes Law becomes

B2!r =

0

I

With our choice of unit vectors, the direction and magnitude of the magnetic field on the

surface of the resistor is

!

B =

0

I

2!a

" .

Question 3: Determine the magnitude and direction of the Poynting vector

!

S =

!

E!

!

B

0

on

the surface of the resistor.

Answer:

The Poynting vector is given by

!

S =

!

E!

!

B

0

=

IR

L

k

"

#

$

%

&

'

!

0

I

2(a

)

"

#

$

%

&

'

0

=

IR

L

I

2(a

(* r) .

Question 4: Calculate the flux of the Poynting vector through the closed surface formed

by the wire (the rate that energy is flowing into the wire),

P =

!

S! n

out

da

wire

"""

.

The surface of the wire is a cylindrical surface of length L and radius a . Express your

answer in terms of the resistance R and current I .

Answer:

In order to calculate the energy flow into the resistor we need to calculate the flux of the

Poynting vector over the closed surface of the resistor.

Because the Poynting vector points radially inward we only calculate the flux over the

cylindrical body of the resistor of surface area

A = 2!aL . For a closed surface we always

choose

n

out

= r and so

!

S! r = " S . Note that if energy flows inward then it is negative

and if energy flows outward it is positive. Thus using our result for the magnitude of the

Poynting vector we have that the power flow through the surface is

P =

!

S! n

out

da =

!

S! r da =

cylinder

""

closed

surface

"""

#

!

S da

cylinder

""

= #

IR

L

I

2$a

%

&

'

(

)

*

(2$aL) = #I

2

R .

Note that if energy flows inward then it is negative and if energy flows outward it is

positive.

Question 5: Does your answer make sense? Explain in terms of energy conservation.

Answer:

The negative sign indicates that energy is flowing into the resistor. We know that the rate

that work is done by the electric field in the wire is

I

2

R so our answer makes because

energy per sec flows in and is equal to the rate that work is done on the charges in the

wire. This energy is dissipated in the form of random thermal motion due to collisions in

the wire and eventually is transmitted to the motion of the air molecules surrounding the

wire.

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