Lets say we have a piece of metal in some region of the space from which it can't move (I realize that maybe this is not plusible) and then a very strong electric field appears, electrons inside the conductor start to move in the opposite direction of the electric field but the field is so strong that there are not enough electrons to neutralize the electric field inside the conductor. So once all the electrons moved to the region of the conductor closest to the electric field source, we would have in that region a bunch of atoms saturated of electrons and at the opposite side of the conductors there would be a bunch of atomic nuclei. What would happen in this situation? There is still an electric field inside the conductors but no more electrons to neutealize it, would they escape from the material towards the source of the field? Would the material be destroyed, in the sense of non being a metal anymore?

  • $\begingroup$ I like to ask students to determine what field would be needed to move one electron per million atoms. Extend that to one electron per atom. $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2016 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ Field electron emission $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2016 at 1:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think that electrons would start being pulled entirely off the piece of metal long before you reached a situation where you pulled all of the conduction electrons (much less all the valence electrons) off of the far side of the metal piece to the opposite side. Look up "cold cathode" or "field electron emission". Also, you're talking about phenomenally high electric fields to strip, say, the electron of a hydrogen atom off of its proton. Try doing a quick calculation. $\endgroup$
    – user93237
    Sep 26, 2016 at 1:21

1 Answer 1


Yes, if the electric field were extremely large in comparison to the size of the conductor then internal rearrangements of the electrons might be insufficient to ensure the field is zero everywhere inside the conductor. In the case where electrons come to the surface to oppose positive charges outside the conductor, these electrons could be ripped from the conductor entirely.

To answer your other question, it depends... if all (!) of the conduction electrons (electrons in the conduction band) were stripped from the material, then I suppose it wouldn't be very metallic anymore.


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