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How To Faradays Law Problems

William Baker
Department of PHYSICS 208: DONT PANIC, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-4242, USA
(Dated: June 25, 2015)
How to identify a Faradays Law Problem and how to solve it quickly and efficiently.

I.

WHATS A FARADAY?

A Faraday is a Scottish physicist best known for a funny contraption called a Faraday cage. More importantly for
you though, he is credited with being the first to publish a paper describing the phenomenon known as Electromagnetic
Induction. The results of his work are best summarized by what we now call Faradays Law:
I
Z ~
B
~
~ d~l =
dA
(1)
E
t
What this says is: If I integrate the value of the electric field dotted into a differential length around the perimeter of
some surface (a closed loop!-thats what that little circle on the integral means), that will equal the time-derivative
of the magnetic field dotted into a differential area, integrated over the area of the aforementioned surface. The
simpler version of this which we usually encounter first in an introductory physics course is known as Kirchoff s
Loop Rule, in which we either ignore the magnetic field or we say simply that its time-derivative is 0. In math:
I
~ d~l = 0
E
(2)
or, since we know that the integral of the electric field is equal to the electric potential:
Vab + Vbc + + Vna = 0

(3)

In simple terms, if I add up all the electric potential differences between every adjacent point in a closed loop, I should
get 0. That being said, there are a few other things I need to know in order to apply this law effectively. Now this
will be broken up into two parts, one for Kirchoffs Loop Rule and the other for the full-fledged Faradays Law
A.

Useful formulae: Kirchoff s Rule

We will most commonly use this with circuits and different circuit elements have behaviors which in general we
know very well. The few you will need to know are written below:
~ = J~
Ohms Law: E

(4)

here is a resistivity which is essentially a measure of how much resistance a material with specified dimensions will
have. In particular, the resistance, R is:
R=

A
l
=R
A
l

(5)

where l is the length of the resistor and A is the cross-sectional area. J~ is a current density or current flux and
in particular, the current I is:
~ = |J||A| cos()
I = J~ A

(6)

There arent a whole lot of situations where I can imagine you actually using the fact that the current density dotted
into the area gives you the magnitudes times the cos of the angle between them, so for simplicity, well simply say:
I = JA J =

I
A

(7)

Putting the expressions for and J into Ohms Law, we get the more familiar result:
E=I

R
El = IR V = IR
l

(8)

2
Additionally, well want to know the expression for capacitance:
C=

Q
Q
V =
V
C

(9)

In the case of parallel plate capacitors ONLY, this could also be written as:
C=

A
d

(10)

with A being the area of the plates, d being the separation between them, and  being the dielectric constant of the
material between the plates (usually it is 0 for air or vacuum). Well also eventually want to know about inductors,
which have an inductance, L. The electric potential difference across it is:
V =L

I
t

(11)

These are the different circuit elements we will encounter, and the reason Ive listed them for you is so that you recognize
the different ways that an electric potential might show up in our calculations. Remember that for Faradays Law,
we are particularly interested in the sum of the electric potentials around a closed loop.

II.

HOW DO I KNOW IF ITS A KIRCHOFF PROBLEM?

Is there a circuit? with resistors? capacitors? inductors? Then youre good to go. I guess its possible that you
might be asked to integrate an electric field around a loop, but Im doubtful.

III.

HOW TO PROCEED: KIRCHOFFS LOOP RULE

These are the steps for most circuit problems. Once you learn about magnetic fields, well have more to worry
about, but for now, we just have that the sum of electric potential differences around a loop is 0.

A.

Read the problem statement : Find out what you need to calculate

Youll have a circuit diagram, and it will have batteries, resistors, capacitors, inductors (later), and wires (also
switches - flippy wires). They might ask you to calculate the current in each part of the circuit, they might ask you
to calculate the resistance of certain resistors, the charge on capacitors, or the capacitance of some capacitors. You
might be asked for the voltage on a battery or you might be asked for the voltage across one or all of the circuit
elements in the circuit. The point is, figure out how many things you need to calculate - figure out a number
(1,2,5,30) and remember it, or write it down, this is the minimum number of loops were going to need. The maximum
number is the total number of unknown quantities in the circuit.

B.

Determine your loops

Think about the word circuit. It sounds a bit like circle. You should, no matter what your circuit looks like, be
able to draw a closed path, starting at one point and tracing with your finger along wires, through resistors, across
capacitors, etc without leaving the circuit or crossing any gaps (pay attention to whether your switches are open or
closed) (the gap in capacitors doesnt count). After youve read the problem and determined the number of things
you need to calculate, you need to determine that same number of independent loops in your circuit , draw
them, label them (1,2,3,4...), and determine a direction (clockwise/counterclockwise) and mark it on the loop you
drew (this is important). In simpler words, if you need to calculate 2 resistances for your problem, then youll need
to determine 2 loops. If you need to calculate 3 currents and 2 capacitances, then youll need to determine 5 loops.

3
C.

Consider your currents, pick their direction if you dont know

Now, for each leg of your circuit, there will be a current flowing (possibly). By leg I mean a stretch or segment of
the circuit between two nodes. Nodes are where two or more wires meet, so generally, the current passing into the
node has to be equal to the current coming out. If you dont know if there is a current on that leg, put one down
anyway and well figure it out in a second. For now, capacitors will not have currents flowing through them, so if
there is a capacitor on that leg, the current will be 0. When I say to pick the direction for the currents, I really mean
that you get to decide. You can decide randomly if you like - it doesnt matter. If you pick the wrong direction,
youll just get a negative sign in the end (this is supposing were solving for the current). You also need to pick where
the positive and negative charges are on the opposite plates of the capacitor.
D.

Write down: 0 =

No really, write down: 0 =


Youre going to write that down each time you do a loop rule for each of the loops you just determined, but for
now, focus on one of them.
E.

Loop your loop

After youve written down 0 =, you now need to go around the loop and sum up all of the voltage drops. For
this, there are a few rules and guidelines:
1. Pick a starting point - any point on the loop
2. Put your finger on that point and begin tracing along the loop
3. The voltage drop across a wire is 0
4. Once your finger encounters a circuit element (resistor, capacitor, battery), we need to write down a term for
the voltage drop across that element to begin our 0=. Now you really need to pay attention to which direction
you are traveling along the loop, which direction you chose for the currents, which plates you chose to be positive
or negative on the capacitors, and which side is positive or negative for batteries.
Batteries: If your finger goes from the negative (small) side to the positive (large) side, you will write
down a positive V (), otherwise - negative.
Resistors: If your finger is moving in the same direction as the current, you write down a negative
IR, otherwise - positive IR.
Capacitors: If your finger moves from the negative to the positive side of the plates, you write down
Q
a positive Q
C , otherwise - negative C .
5. After encountering and crossing a circuit element, write down its voltage drop, positive or negative, on the right
hand side of your 0=.
You should now have something that looks like:
0 = V1 + V2 + V3 + V4 +

(12)

For example:
0 = a I1 R1 + I2 R3

Q1
b
C1

(13)

but of course, what this actually looks like depends on your circuit and your loop.
F.

Rinse and Repeat

At this point, youre done with your loop. Now you need to repeat for each of the loops you came up with before.
After youve come up with each equation for each loop, its just a matter of solving a system of equations to find
whatever youre looking for.

4
IV.

WORKAROUNDS, ALTERNATIVES, AND REMINDERS

If you run into issues, of which the most common is that 2 or more of your equations turn out to be the exact same
equation, you might try using a Junction Rule. I mentioned this briefly before, but in not in mathematical terms.
Essentially, you may pick a node and write down that the current entering the node must equal the current exiting the
node. Think about the current as a river of electrons (think river of water). If a river splits into two smaller rivers, or
two smaller rivers combine into one, the amount of water coming into this junction must equal the water leaving. In
other words, we cant create or destroy water (electrons) just by splitting a river of them into smaller parts. In math:
(entering)I1 + I2 + = I3 + I4 + (leaving)

(14)

The only difficulty you should have now is solving your equations. Remember that you should have the same number
of equations as the number of things you need to solve for. You should have learned in algebra when being introduced
to systems of equations that you need the same number of equations as unknown variables. Be sure to double check
the signs on each of voltages you write down.
Remember that when we talk about voltage or electric potential, we are really talking about the voltage difference
or electric potential difference and that the phrase the voltage at X doesnt make any sense whatsoever. You
can only say the voltage between X and Y. That is, you have to be talking about the voltage between two points. So
when you write down a voltage drop in Kirchoff problems, youre really talking about the voltage or electric potential
difference between one point on the circuit and another point, usually on either side of a circuit element.
The best way to get good at this stuff is practice (duh). Pick out a simple problem (battery with a resistor is the
simplest) and work it out. Then pick a harder one. I dont know how to put circuit diagrams in here, so if you need
illustrations, dont hesitate to come ask.

V.

NOTES ON HOW TO HANDLE RESISTORS

Occasionally youll be given problems in which you will be asked to solve for the resistance of some resistor, as well
as the electric field and/or current density inside of it, and the resistivity will not be constant, but instead a function
of the position along the resistor. In that case, you need to think of the resistor as a bunch of little resistors connected
in series and then you need to add up all of the little resistances to get the total resistance:
Zx1
R=

(x)

dx
A(x)

(15)

x0

In this case as well, remember that the current density, j is:


J=

I
A

(16)

I
A(x)

(17)

So if the area is not uniform, then:


J(x) =
and similarly for the electric field:
E = J E(x) = (x)J(x)

(18)