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9 Conductors and Electrical Screening 39

When the conductors are connected by a conducting wire they form an equipotential surface.
The charges redistribute themselves t o minimise the potential. Let qi’, 42’ be the charges of the
conductors in the new state of equilibrium. Since no charge is lost, we must have

(a) 41’ + 42’ = 41 + 4 2 .

Since both spheres now have the same potential we have

This implies that

-41’+ - =42’
- + - -42’
-, 41’
a r b r
1 1
4; = q;R, 4; = 4; x, where R=
a r

With (a) we have

91’ = (41 + 42 - 41’)R
and so
I (41 + 4 2 w
41 =
/ (41+42)&
42 =
1 + 1x
With these expressions we obtain the new energy of the system as

w‘= 4;41/ + 4;42/,


The amount by which the energy is lowered is therefore W - W’; for a = b, this is

This is the resultj

Example 2.17: The charges of connected spherical shells

Two conducting spherical shells have radii R1 and Rz. Their centres are a distance D , D >> R1 +R2
apart. The sphere with radius R1 is given a charge Q1 and the sphere with radius R2 the charge
Q 2 . A thin conducting wire is now added to connect the two spheres. Calculate the resulting
surface charge densities on both spheres, as well as the electric field strengths. Without further
calculations discuss the effect that appears when the system with very small radius Rz is subjected
to a high voltage (i.e. why high voltage systems avoid sharp points like that of the small sphere).

Solution: It is easiest to obtain the potential of the spheres from the Gauss law,

J E . d F = 47rk
J p(r’)dr’ = 4nkQ,

‘See also LI. G. Chambers [ll],problem 8, p. 55