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MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

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.