# 5.13: Electric Potential Field due to a Continuous Distribution of Charge

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The electrostatic potential field at \({\bf r}\) associated with \(N\) charged particles is

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \sum_{n=1}^N { \frac{q_n}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}_n\right|} } \label{m0065_eCountable}\]

where \(q_n\) and \({\bf r_n}\) are the charge and position of the \(n^{\mbox{th}}\) particle. However, it is more common to have a continuous distribution of charge as opposed to a countable number of charged particles. We now consider how to compute \(V({\bf r})\) three types of these commonly-encountered distributions. Before beginning, it’s worth noting that the methods will be essentially the same, from a mathematical viewpoint, as those developed in Section 5.4; therefore, a review of that section may be helpful before attempting this section.

## Continuous Distribution of Charge Along a Curve

Consider a continuous distribution of charge along a curve \(\mathcal{C}\). The curve can be divided into short segments of length \(\Delta l\). Then, the charge associated with the \(n^{\mbox{th}}\) segment, located at \({\bf r}_n\), is

\[q_n = \rho_l({\bf r}_n)~\Delta l\]

where \(\rho_l\) is the line charge density (units of C/m) at \({\bf r}_n\). Substituting this expression into Equation \ref{m0065_eCountable}, we obtain

\[{\bf V}({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \sum_{n=1}^{N} { \frac{\rho_l({\bf r}_n)}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}_n\right|} \Delta l}\]

Taking the limit as \(\Delta l\to 0\) yields:

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \int_{\mathcal C} { \frac{\rho_l(l)}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}'\right|} dl} \label{m0065_eLineCharge}\]

where \({\bf r}'\) represents the varying position along \({\mathcal C}\) with integration along the length \(l\).

## Continuous Distribution of Charge Over a Surface

Consider a continuous distribution of charge over a surface \(\mathcal{S}\). The surface can be divided into small patches having area \(\Delta s\). Then, the charge associated with the \(n^{\mbox{th}}\) patch, located at \({\bf r}_n\), is

\[q_n = \rho_s({\bf r}_n)~\Delta s\]

where \(\rho_s\) is surface charge density (units of C/m\(^2\)) at \({\bf r}_n\). Substituting this expression into Equation \ref{m0065_eCountable}, we obtain

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \sum_{n=1}^{N} { \frac{\rho_s({\bf r}_n)}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}_n\right|}~\Delta s}\]

Taking the limit as \(\Delta s\to 0\) yields:

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \int_{\mathcal S} { \frac{\rho_s({\bf r}')}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}'\right|}~ds} \label{m0065_eSurfCharge}\]

where \({\bf r}'\) represents the varying position over \({\mathcal S}\) with integration.

## Continuous Distribution of Charge in a Volume

Consider a continuous distribution of charge within a volume \(\mathcal{V}\). The volume can be divided into small cells (volume elements) having area \(\Delta v\). Then, the charge associated with the \(n^{\mbox{th}}\) cell, located at \({\bf r}_n\), is

\[q_n = \rho_v({\bf r}_n)~\Delta v\]

where \(\rho_v\) is the volume charge density (units of C/m\(^3\)) at \({\bf r}_n\). Substituting this expression into Equation \ref{m0065_eCountable}, we obtain

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \sum_{n=1}^{N} { \frac{\rho_v({\bf r}_n)}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}_n\right|}~\Delta v}\]

Taking the limit as \(\Delta v\to 0\) yields:

\[V({\bf r}) = \frac{1}{4\pi\epsilon} \int_{\mathcal V} { \frac{\rho_v({\bf r}')}{\left|{\bf r}-{\bf r}'\right|}~dv}\]

where \({\bf r}'\) represents the varying position over \({\mathcal V}\) with integration.

## Contributors and Attributions

Ellingson, Steven W. (2018) Electromagnetics, Vol. 1. Blacksburg, VA: VT Publishing. https://doi.org/10.21061/electromagnetics-vol-1 Licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0. Report adoption of this book here. If you are a professor reviewing, adopting, or adapting this textbook please help us understand a little more about your use by filling out this form.