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.

In the modern texts of electromagnetism in the presence of stationary currents the electric field is assumed conservative $\nabla \times E =0 $. Using this we get $E_{||}^{out}=E_{||}^{in}$ which means we have the same amount of electric field just outside of the wire! Is this correct? Is there any experimental proof?

share|improve this question

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Outside a current carrying conductor, there is, in fact, an electric field. This is discussed for example, in "Surface charges on circuit wires and resistors play three roles" by J. D. Jackson, in American Journal of Physics -- July 1996 -- Volume 64, Issue 7, pp. 855 . To quote Norris W. Preyer quoting Jackson, "Jackson describes the three roles of surface charges in circuits: "(1) to maintain the potential around the circuit, (2) to provide the electric field in the space around the circuit, (3) and to assure the confined flow of current.""

Experimental verification was provided by Jefimenko several decades ago. A modern experimental demonstration is provided by Rebecca Jacobs, Alex de Salazar, and Antonio Nassar, in their article "New experimental method of visualizing the electric field due to surface charges on circuit elements", in American Journal of Physics -- December 2010 -- Volume 78, Issue 12, pp. 1432 .

share|improve this answer

That equation is true for electrostatics. Inside an electrically neutral current-carrying wire, the electric parallel to the wire is zero. So outside the wire it's also zero.

More importantly, Gauss's law will tell you that the components perpendicular to the wire must also be zero.

So the electric field is zero everywhere for an electrically neutral current-carrying wire.

share|improve this answer
then what is the $E$ in the equation $J=\sigma E$ always we have inside the current which by the way has zero flux through every closed surface inside the wire!! –  richard Apr 22 '13 at 15:53
For a short wire for length $L$, $EL=V$. But for a long wire, $L \rightarrow \infty$ so $E \rightarrow 0$. For a short wire the electric field isn't zero everywhere. –  santa claus Apr 22 '13 at 17:24
Alec, for long wires, one would use higher voltage to maintain the electric field, and hence the current, the same. Your answer is incorrect; there is electric field both inside and outside the wire. –  Ján Lalinský Oct 31 '13 at 14:17
In order to maintain the flow of electrons in a current-carrying wire, there must be a potential difference. Going from A to B on a long wire, an electron must experience the same potential drop regardless of path. So if it leaves the wire it must experience $\Delta V = \int E\cdot ds$ - and if the line integral of the field is finite, the field must be finite. –  Floris Jun 23 '14 at 5:42

I think is that on the outer diameter for a distance tending to zero, the electric field will be same as inside but when you move further outside of the cable towards larger distance, the field will be reducing.

share|improve this answer

gee whizz, its like Maxwell and Faraday never existed! Remember, a current carrying wire gives rise to a concentric magnetic field. This will be accompanied with a radial Electric field.

share|improve this answer
This doesn't seem to answer the question, which is about the experimental proof of $E_\parallel^{out}=E_\parallel^{in}$ in a wire. –  Kyle Kanos Aug 27 '14 at 16:47
The original question was "does a current carrying wire produce electric field outside" As I said, a current carrying wire produces a concentric magnetic field about the wire cross section.Hence there is a radial electric field emanating from the wire surface. This is what leads to corona development around wires if the E field is > dialectic breakdown strength of the surrounding medium (usu air). Besides the question equates parallel or tangential components of E field. It is the perpendicular or radial in the case of a cylindrical wire that we are concerned with. –  John Evans Sep 11 '14 at 15:04

Your problem is clearly and comprehensively treated by Hans De Vries in:


The quintessence is that a current carrying wire appears electrostatically charged to an observer in relative motion to that wire, even when the same current carrying wire appears uncharged to an observer at rest relative to that wire. The observed electric field is identical to that given by the Lorentz-formula E = v X B. For simplicity, disregard the resistance of the wire and assume a superconducting wire.

share|improve this answer
Link-only answers are bad answer. Stack Exchange sites seek to be repositories of good questions with good answers, not link farms. –  dmckee Apr 8 '14 at 15:49

A metallic wire is electostaticly neutral the mobile negative charges equals the strongly Bounded pisitive charges , so resultant electric field is zero everywhere.

share|improve this answer
It can't be zero everywhere or the negative charges would not be moving. –  Jim Jun 30 '14 at 14:35

Your Answer


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.