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When a conductor is placed in some external electric field, why can't the free electrons just escape out of it? Is the positive charge distribution on the opposite side(surface) always strong enough to resist the electrons from escaping... and make they stay at the surface? Or is there much more to it?

Let me clear my question... Suppose if we induce some net negative charge in a metallic sphere, these charges will go on to accumulate at the surface so as to cancel the net electric field in the interior. But the question is what's actually keeping these charges themselves from escaping. It's understandable that they combine to produce a net zero electric field in the interior, but what about the charges themselves, aren't they feeling repulsions due to each other...(there's no cancellation in their case)? What's preventing them from escaping?

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Electrons have to overcome the so called work function. Even conduction electrons have some probability of being found near and even at the nucleus of the atoms making up the metal. This is what causes metallic bonding and keeps the metallic structure stable.

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