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Understanding Gauss's Law Using Spreadsheets

Physics Education Volume 48, Number 5, ISSN 0031-9120


Some of the results from the electrostatics portion of introductory physics are particularly difficult for students to understand and/or believe. For students who have yet to take vector calculus, Gauss's law is far from obvious and may seem more difficult than Coulomb's. When these same students are told that the minimum potential energy for charges added to a conductor is realized when all charges are on the surface, they may have a hard time believing that the energy would not be lowered if just one of those charges were moved from the surface to the interior of a conductor. Investigating these ideas using Coulomb's law and/or the formula for the potential energy of a system of discrete charges might be tempting, but as the number of charges climbs past a few the calculations become tedious. A spreadsheet enables students to perform these for a hundred or more charges and confirm the familiar results.


Baird, W.H. (2013). Understanding Gauss's Law Using Spreadsheets. Physics Education, 48(5), 589-592. Retrieved January 21, 2020 from .

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