Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

An electric dipole moment is defined as $p = q\times 2d$. How to understand it physically? Why the direction of the electric dipole moment is from negative charge to positive charge?

share|improve this question
6  
Important: there shouldn't be a factor of 2 in that formula. Two point charges +q and -q separated by a distance d will have a dipole moment p = qd. –  David H Apr 14 '13 at 15:28
add comment

3 Answers

There are two separate issues here. (1) Why does it make sense to consider a dipole moment as a vector? (2) Given that it's a vector, why does it make sense to say that it points in this particular direction, rather than the opposite direction.

  1. Intuitively, it makes sense to define a dipole as a vector because when we put it in a field, it aligns itself with the field like a little arrow. Fundamentally, we treat things as vectors when they transform as vectors. We have monopoles, dipoles, quadrupoles, ... Monopoles (electric charges) don't change under rotation, so they're scalars. Dipoles reverse themselves under 180 degree rotation, so they're vectors. Quadrupoles reverse themselves under 90 degree rotation, so they're tensors.

  2. This is purely a matter of convention. According to the usual convention, the potential energy of an electric dipole is $-\mathbf{p}\cdot \mathbf{E}$. Historically, whoever first defined the dipole moment could have defined it with the opposite sign. Then the energy would have been $+\mathbf{p}\cdot \mathbf{E}$. The sign would also have been reversed in every other equation, e.g., $\boldsymbol{\tau}=\mathbf{p}\times \mathbf{E}$ would have become $\boldsymbol{\tau}=\mathbf{E}\times \mathbf{p}$.

There are many, many arbitrary choices of sign like this in physics. If Ben Franklin had made the opposite choice for the sign of the charge of cat fur rubbed on glass (or whatever it was he used as a standard), then we'd say today that electrons had positive charge. The direction of the magnetic field is also arbitrary and could have been defined as pointing the opposite way (in which case some of the signs in Maxwell's equations would flip).

share|improve this answer
    
I agree with your first point. I can give explanation for the second point you have given. The potential energy of an electric dipole in an electrostatic field is the work done in rotating the dipole to the desired position in the field. To find out this work done we have to integrate the torque. If you integrate, you will end up with a negative sign. But i have question on the electric dipole moment. –  phyphenomenon Apr 15 '13 at 15:17
add comment

The dipole moment is in the direction, in whch unit test charge moves, wn put on axial line outside the dipole.

share|improve this answer
1  
Please correct the form of you answer, especially after the second comma. –  V. Moretti Jan 8 at 15:51
add comment

There is no particular way of describing the direction of dipole rather it is hypothetic.But one should know the fact that if lenth is taken as 2L,means it has a specific origion(No matter for ease it is taken).Now as possible,draw a graph of dipole and its axial line co-insided with the X-axis.Therefore we will find the -ve charge takes the position on left of the origion shows charge is also negative.Now leave all the quadrants except when all trig.functions are +ve..i.e Quad.1st....Draw a point on axis on this quadrant,now predict the direction,we say it is from centre 'O' towards that point.i.e we are supposing its direction from origion to positive....i.e from left to right if direction is obtained from the pont left of origion to the point under consideration,we have to follow same rules.Same is in dipole direction i.e from -ve to +ve......Other all stories are hypothetical...

share|improve this answer
    
Aasif, excuse me, not being offensive, you have a bunch of typos and grammar error. like "origin." –  Idear Mar 26 at 2:56
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.