Pristiadi Utomo


In Materi Fisika, Media Ajar, Pendidikan, Physics on 28 April 2010 at 4:57 am


In this chapter we will introduce a new property of matter known as  “electric charge” (symbol q ).   We will explore the charge of atomic constituents.

Moreover, we will describe the following properties of charge:

– Types of electric charge

– Forces among two charges (Coulomb’s law)

– Charge quantization

– Charge conservation

Empirically it was known since ancient times that if amber is rubbed on cloth, it acquires the property of attracting light objects such as feathers.  This phenomenon was attributed to a new property of matter called “electric charge”.  (electron is the Greek name for amber) More experiments show that they are two distinct type of electric charge:  Positive (color code : red) ,  and  Negative (color code : black)                             The names “positive” and “negative” were given by Benjamin Franklin.

When we rub a glass rod with silk cloth both objects acquire electric charge. The sign on the charge on the glass rod is defined as positive

In a similar fashion when we rub a plastic rod with fur both objects acquire electric charge. The sign on the charge on the plastic rod is defined as negative.

Q: Do we have enough information so as to determine the sign of all other charges in nature?

Q: Do we have enough information so as to be able  to determine the sign of all other charges in nature?  To answer this question we need one more piece of information.

Further experiments on charged objects showed that:

  1. Charges of the same type (either both positive or both negative) repel each other
  2. Charges of opposite type on the other hand attract each other .  The force direction allows us to determine the sign of an unknown electric charge.

Charges of the same sign repel each other.  Charges of opposite sign attract each other

The recipe is as follows:

We charge a glass rod by rubbing it with silk cloth. Thus we know that the charge on the glass rod is positive.  The rod is suspended in such a way so that it can keep its charge and also rotate freely under the influence of a force applied by charge with the unknown sign.  We approach the suspended class rod with the new charge whose sign we wish to determine.                                       Two outcomes are possible. These are shown in the figure to the left:

Fig.a : The two objects repel each other.  We then conclude that the unknown charge has a positive sign.

Fig.b : The two objects attract each other.  We then conclude that the unknown charge has a negative sign

In Benjamin Franklin’s day (18th century) it was assumed that electric charge is some type of weightless continuous fluid.  Investigations of the structure of atoms by Ernest Rutherford at the beginning of the 20th century revealed how matter is organized and also identified that charge of its constituents.

Atoms consist of electrons and the nucleus.  Atoms have sizes ~ 5´10-10 m         Nuclei have sizes  ~  5´10-15 m

The nucleus itself consists of two types of particles: protons and neutrons.                                             The electrons are negatively charged The protons are positively charged, The neutrons are neutral (zero charge)

Thus electric charge is a fundamental property of the elementary particles (electrons, protons, neutrons) out of which atoms are made of.

Mass and charge of atomic constituents

Neutron (n) :     Mass   m = 1.675´10-27 kg   ;  Charge   q = 0

Proton (p)   :     Mass  m = 1.673´10-27 kg    ;  Charge q = +1.602´10-19 C

Electron (e) :     Mass m = 9.11´10-31 kg       ;  Charge q =  -1.602´10-19 C

Note 1: We use the symbol “-e” and “+e”  for the electron and proton charge, respectively. This is known as the elementary charge

Note 2: Atoms are electrically neutral.  The number of electrons is equal to the number of protons.  This number is known as “ atomic number ” (symbol: Z)    The chemical properties of atoms are determined exclusively by Z

Note 3: The sum of the number of protons and the number of neutrons is known as the “ mass number ” (symbol: A)


Z= 92 = number of protons/electrons

A = 235 = number of protons + neutrons

The atomic number Z = 92 defines the nucleus as that of a Uranium atom

Conservation of Charge

Consider a glass rod and a piece of silk cloth (both uncharged) shown in the upper figure.  If we rub the glass rod with the silk cloth we know that positive charge appears on the rod (see lower figure).  At the same time an equal amount of negative charge appears on the silk cloth, so that the net rod-cloth charge is actually zero.  This suggests that rubbing does not create charge but only transfers it from one body to the other, thus upsetting the electrical neutrality of each body.  Charge conservation can be summarized as follows:  In any process the charge at the beginning equals the charge at the end of the process.

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