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Finding Potentials from Fields - The Murder Mystery Method

Keywords: Electricity and Magnetism, Electric Field, Vector Calculus, Conservative Fields, Coordinate Systems, Vector Fields, Small Group Activity


Highlights of the activity

  1. This small group activity is designed to help upper-division undergraduate students learn how to calculate the electrostatic potential for a given electric field.
  2. Students must deduce the possible form of the potential by integrating the components of the electric field and comparing the results from the different components.
  3. The wrap-up discussion focuses on how to recognize when the components give consistent information and can therefore represent an electrostatic potential.

Reasons to spend class time on the activity

Being able to transition between charges densities, fields and potentials in an important goal for E&M courses. Finding potentials given an electric fields involves a refined process of guessing and checking. In this activity, students get to practice this technique, and the activity can lead to a nice discussion about the nature of conservative fields.


Instructor's Guide

Student Handouts



Authors: Corinne Manogue, Tevian Dray, & Katherine Meyer
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