Electric Potential

Team Physics - Examples.com
Created by: Team Physics - Examples.com, Last Updated: July 15, 2024

Electric Potential

Electric Potential is a concept in physics that quantifies the amount of potential energy a unit charge would have at a specific point in an electric field. It measures the work done per unit charge to move a positive test charge from a reference point, often infinity, to the point in question, against the electric field.

What is Electric Potential?

Electric potential measures the potential energy per unit charge at a specific point in an electric field. It indicates the energy a single positive charge has at that location. The potential difference between two points, or voltage, shows the work required to move a unit charge from one point to another within the field. This concept helps us understand electrical circuits and how charges behave in electrostatic fields.

Electric Potential Formula

The formula for Electric Potential (V) at a point in an units of electric field is given by:

V = w/qโ€‹
  • where:
  • ๐‘Š is the work done to move a charge to that point, and
  • ๐‘ž is the magnitude of the charge.

For the electric potential due to a point charge, the formula is:

V = KQ/๐‘Ÿ
  • where:
  • ๐‘˜ is Coulomb’s constant (8.99ร—10โนโ€‰Nโ‹…mยฒ/Cยฒ),
  • ๐‘„ is the magnitude of the point charge creating the electric field, and
  • ๐‘Ÿ is the distance from the charge to the point where the potential is measured.

Uses of Electric Potential

Uses of Electric Potential
  • Designing Electrical Circuits: Engineers design circuits by utilizing potential differences (voltage) to drive current through components like resistors and capacitors. This ensures the efficient functioning of electrical devices.
  • Energy Storage in Batteries: Batteries leverage electric potential to store and supply electrical energy. Therefore, voltage differences between terminals facilitate the flow of current.
  • Electrostatic Applications: Devices like photocopiers and electrostatic air filters rely on electric potential to attract and move charged particles. Thus, they help with efficient printing and air purification.
  • Measuring Electrical Safety: Electric potential helps identify grounding issues and prevent electrical hazards in various installations. As a result, it contributes to maintaining safety standards.
  • Electromagnetic Research: Scientists study electric potential to understand charge distribution and electric fields, providing crucial insights into the behavior of charged particles.
  • Voltage Regulation: Electrical systems, such as power grids, use electric potential to regulate and maintain stable voltage levels for consistent power distribution. Consequently, power supply becomes more reliable and efficient.

Examples for Electric Potential

  • Batteries: Batteries generate electric potential by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. Therefore, connecting a battery to a circuit causes electrons to flow from the negative terminal to the positive terminal, creating a potential difference.
  • Van de Graaff Generator: This generator produces a high electric potential by accumulating static electricity on a large metal dome. Consequently, when an individual touches the dome, the accumulated charge causes their hair to stand up due to electrostatic repulsion.
  • Capacitors: Capacitors store electrical energy by creating a potential difference between two conductive plates separated by an insulating material. Hence, when connected to a circuit, they release this stored energy to power components.
  • Lightning: Thunderstorms produce electric potential differences between the clouds and the ground due to the separation of charges. As a result, lightning occurs when the potential difference becomes high enough to ionize the air, allowing current to flow.
  • Electric Circuits: In everyday circuits, power supplies create potential differences to drive current through various components like resistors and LEDs. Thus, switching on a lightbulb completes the circuit, allowing current to flow due to the potential difference provided by the power source.
  • Defibrillators: Medical defibrillators apply a controlled electric potential to the heart through paddles or pads. Therefore, this shock can reset the heart’s electrical activity to restore a normal heartbeat in cases of cardiac arrhythmia.


How is electric potential different from electric potential energy?

Electric potential is energy per unit charge, while potential energy is the total energy of a charged object due to its position in an electric field.

What unit is used to measure electric potential?

The unit for electric potential is the volt (V), which represents one joule per coulomb. It’s commonly used to indicate voltage in circuits.

How does electric potential relate to voltage?

Voltage is the difference in electric potential between two points. It shows the amount of work required to move a unit charge between those points.

How do you calculate the electric potential from a point charge?

Use the formula ๐‘‰=KQ/rโ€‹, where k is Coulombโ€™s constant, Q is the charge, and r is the distance from the charge.

What is a practical application of electric potential?

Batteries use electric potential to create voltage differences, providing energy that powers electrical devices and enables current flow through circuits.

Why is electric potential important in electrical circuits?

It drives the current by providing a potential difference across circuit components, enabling devices like resistors and capacitors to function correctly.

What factors affect electric potential?

The charge’s magnitude and distribution, distance from the charge, and the surrounding medium’s permittivity impact the electric potential at a given point.

How does a uniform electric field influence electric potential?

In a uniform field, electric potential decreases linearly along the field’s direction. The greater the distance, the higher the potential difference.

Can electric potential be negative?

Yes, electric potential can be negative if work is required to move a charge in opposition to the direction of the electric field.

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