Electric Charge

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Created by: Team Physics - Examples.com, Last Updated: July 14, 2024

Electric Charge

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter that causes it to experience a force in an electromagnetic field. It comes in two types: positive and negative. The unit of electric charge in the International System of Units (SI) is the coulomb (C). Electric charge is quantized, with the elementary charge being 1.602×10⁻¹⁹ coulombs. The units of electric charge relate to the units of current, where one ampere (A) is one coulomb per second. Additionally, the electronvolt (eV) measures the Units of energy change when an electron moves through a potential difference of one volt.

What is an Electric Charge?

Electric Charge is a fundamental property of matter that causes it to experience a force in an electric and magnetic field. It is carried by particles like protons and electrons, which have positive and negative charges, respectively. The SI unit of electric charge is the coulomb (C). Like charges repel, and opposite charges attract, following Coulomb’s law.

Electric Charge Formula

The formula for electric charge (Q) is derived from the relationship between current (I) and time (t):

Q = I × t

Q: Electric charge in coulombs (C)
I: Electric current in amperes (A)
t: Time in seconds (s)

Electric Charge SI Unit

SI unit of electric charge = coulomb (C)

Electric Charge Examples

Electric Charge Examples
  1. Laser Printers: Use a laser beam to produce an image on a drum. The drum is then electrostatically charged, attracting toner particles which are transferred to paper and fused to create a printed document.
  2. Ink-Jet Printers and Electrostatic Painting: In ink-jet printers, tiny droplets of ink are given an electric charge and directed onto the paper by electric fields. Electrostatic painting uses charged paint particles to uniformly coat surfaces, improving efficiency and reducing waste.
  3. Air Purifiers: Use electrostatic charges to attract and trap dust and pollutant particles from the air, improving indoor air quality by removing airborne contaminants.
  4. Paint Spraying: Involves charging paint particles and then spraying them onto a grounded surface. The charged particles are attracted to the surface, resulting in an even coat with minimal overspray.
  5. Smoke Precipitators and Electrostatic Air Cleaning: Smoke precipitators use electric fields to charge smoke particles in industrial exhaust, which are then collected on oppositely charged plates, reducing air pollution. Electrostatic air cleaners work on the same principle to clean indoor air.
  6. Xerography: The underlying technology in photocopiers and laser printers. It involves charging a photoconductive surface, exposing it to light to form an image, and then attracting toner particles to the charged areas to create a visible image.
  7. Electrostatic Bonding: Uses electric charges to bond materials together, such as in the packaging industry where plastic films are sealed together using static electricity.
  8. Photocopier: Utilizes electrostatic charges to transfer toner (a fine powder) onto a sheet of paper, creating a duplicate of the original document.
  9. Van de Graaff Generator: A device that accumulates very high voltages by transferring charge to a metal sphere using a moving belt, often used in educational demonstrations of static electricity.
  10. Electrostatic Loudspeakers: Utilize a thin, electrically charged diaphragm placed between two conductive plates. When an a signal is applied to the plates, the diaphragm moves back and forth due to electrostatic forces, producing sound waves with high fidelity.
  11. Electrostatic Dusting: Utilizes static electricity to attract dust and dirt to cleaning cloths or dusters, making it easier to clean surfaces without using chemicals.
  12. Electrostatic Separation: Used in recycling and mining industries to separate materials based on their electrostatic properties, such as separating different types of plastics or minerals.
  13. Electrostatic Precipitators in Power Plants: These devices use electrostatic charges to capture ash and other particulates from the exhaust gases of coal-fired power plants, reducing air pollution.
  14. Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Protection: In electronics manufacturing, ESD protection prevents damage to sensitive components by safely dissipating static electricity that could build up and discharge unpredictably.
  15. Electrostatic Microactuators: Found in micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), these devices use electrostatic forces to actuate tiny mechanical components, enabling precise movements in applications like biomedical devices and optical switches.

Types of Electric Charge

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. There are two main types of electric charge: positive charge and negative charge. Understanding these types is crucial for studying electric fields, circuits, and various physical phenomena.

Positive Charge

Positive charge, denoted by the symbol (+), is carried by protons. Protons are found in the nucleus of an atom. When an object has more protons than electrons, it is said to be positively charged. Common examples include:

  • Protons: The primary carriers of positive charge in atoms.
  • Positively Charged Ions (Cations): Atoms or molecules that have lost one or more electrons, resulting in a net positive charge.

Negative Charge

Negative charge, denoted by the symbol (-), is carried by electrons. Electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom. When an object has more electrons than protons, it is negatively charged. Common examples include:

  • Electrons: The primary carriers of negative charge in atoms.
  • Negatively Charged Ions (Anions): Atoms or molecules that have gained one or more electrons, resulting in a net negative charge.

Neutral Charge

While not a type of electric charge, it’s important to note that objects can also be electrically neutral. This occurs when the number of protons equals the number of electrons, resulting in no net charge. Examples include:

  • Neutrons: Particles found in the nucleus of an atom that carry no charge.
  • Neutral Atoms: Atoms with an equal number of protons and electrons.

Differences Between Positive and Negative Charges

CharacteristicPositive ChargeNegative Charge
Carrier ParticleProtonsElectrons
Behavior in Electric FieldRepel other positive charges, attract negative chargesRepel other negative charges, attract positive charges
Common FormsCations (e.g., Na, K)Anions (e.g., Cl,O2)

Methods of Charging

Charging is the process of giving an object an electric charge. There are three main methods of charging: friction, conduction, and induction. Each method works differently.

1. Charging by Friction

Charging by friction occurs when two objects are rubbed together, causing electrons to transfer. For example, rubbing a balloon on your hair transfers electrons from your hair to the balloon, making your hair positively charged and the balloon negatively charged. Similarly, rubbing a glass rod with silk transfers electrons to the silk, making the rod positively charged and the silk negatively charged.

2. Charging by Conduction

Charging by conduction happens when a charged object touches a neutral object, transferring electrons. For instance, touching a charged metal rod to a neutral metal sphere transfers electrons to the sphere, charging it. Similarly, a charged balloon touching a wall transfers electrons, charging the wall.

3. Charging by Induction

Charging by induction occurs without direct contact. Bringing a charged balloon near a metal sphere repels electrons in the sphere, causing one side to be positively charged and the other negatively charged. Holding a charged rod near a grounded metal object also causes a separation of charges without direct contact.

Properties of Electric Charge

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter, and it comes with several key properties:

  1. Quantization: Electric charge exists in discrete units. The smallest unit of electric charge is the charge of an electron, which is approximately −1.602×10−19 coulombs (C). Protons have an equal but opposite positive charge.
  2. Conservation: Electric charge is conserved in isolated systems. This means that the total electric charge in a closed system remains constant over time.
  3. Additivity: Electric charge adds algebraically. If two objects carry charges q1​ and q2​, then the total charge Q when combined is Q=q1+q2
  4. Attraction and Repulsion: Like charges repel each other, and opposite charges attract each other. This principle governs the behavior of charged particles interacting with each other.
  5. Induction: Electric charges can induce charges in nearby objects without direct contact. This phenomenon is the basis for static electricity and electromagnetic induction.
  6. Coulomb’s Law: Describes the force between two point charges. It states that the magnitude of the electrostatic force FFF between two point charges is directly proportional to the product of the magnitudes of the charges q1​ and q2​, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance r between them: F=k⋅∣q1⋅q2∣r, where k is the electrostatic constant.


How do charges interact with each other?

Like charges repel each other, while opposite charges attract. This fundamental principle is described by Coulomb’s law.

What is Coulomb’s law?

Coulomb’s law states that the force between two charges is directly proportional to the product of their magnitudes and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

What is the unit of electric charge?

The unit of electric charge is the coulomb (C). One coulomb is equivalent to the charge of approximately 6.242 x 10¹⁸ electrons.

What is the charge of an electron?

The charge of an electron is approximately -1.602 x 10⁻¹⁹ coulombs. This is considered a fundamental unit of charge.

What is the charge of a proton?

The charge of a proton is approximately +1.602 x 10⁻¹⁹ coulombs, equal in magnitude but opposite in sign to the charge of an electron.

How do materials become electrically charged?

Materials become electrically charged through friction, conduction, or induction, which transfer or rearrange electrons between objects.

What is static electricity?

Static electricity is the result of an imbalance of charges on the surface of materials, often caused by friction.

What is an electric field?

An electric field is a region around a charged particle where other charges experience a force. It is represented by field lines pointing away from positive charges and toward negative charges.

What is the principle of charge conservation?

The principle of charge conservation states that the total electric charge in an isolated system remains constant, regardless of any changes within the system.

What is electric potential energy?

Electric potential energy is the energy stored in a system of charges due to their positions relative to each other.

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