Electric Fields: What They Are and How They Work

Unveil the world of electric fields — imperceptible yet immensely influential forces that sculpt charges and steer currents. Delve into their pivotal role in understanding electricity, technology, and the forces that shape our modern world.


As we continue our journey through electrical theory, we transition from the core understanding of electric charges to the space that surrounds these charges — the electric field. After grasping the fundamental concepts of positive, negative, and neutral charges in the previous article, it’s time to delve into how these charges interact with each other and the space around them.

What is an Electric Field?

Imagine you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down at the vast expanse below. You can’t see it, but you can feel the gravitational pull, urging you backward to safety. This unseen force field, in essence, is analogous to an electric field.

Electric fields are invisible forces that surround electric charges, influencing other charges within the field. The field represents the force that a positive test charge would experience at any point within the field. As a fundamental concept in electricity and magnetism, electric fields help us understand how charges interact and how electric potentials are created.

electric fields around an electric charge

The Basic Principle

Every electric charge generates an electric field around itself. The direction of the field is outward for positive charges and inward for negative charges. The strength of the electric field (measured in volts per meter, or V/m) is determined by the amount of charge and the distance from the charge. The closer you are to the charge, the stronger the field.

An electric field exerts force on other charges that enter it. A positive charge placed in an electric field will be pushed in the direction of the field, while a negative charge will be pushed against it. This interaction between charges and the electric field is the basis for the movement of charges, or electric current.

Electric Fields and Electricians

For electricians, the electric field is a key concept in understanding how electrical devices function. From simple devices like switches and outlets to complex machinery and electrical systems, the electric field plays a pivotal role.

Take the example of a basic light switch. When the switch is off, it creates a break in the electric field within the circuit, preventing the movement of charges and keeping the light off. When the switch is flipped on, it completes the electric field, allowing charges to flow and the light to illuminate.

electric field being cut off

Electric Fields in Daily Life

While the idea of electric fields might seem abstract, they exist everywhere electricity is present. The power lines you see overhead or underground create electric fields around them. Similarly, every device that uses electricity, from your refrigerator to your smartphone, generates an electric field while in operation.

Even our bodies have tiny electric fields! These are created by the biochemical reactions occurring within us, such as the transmission of nerve signals. As you can see, electric fields permeate our daily lives, underlying many natural phenomena and technological applications.

The concept of electric fields also applies to the generation and distribution of electric power. Power plants generate electricity, creating a large electric field that pushes the charges along power lines. Transformers then adjust the strength of the electric field to safely distribute electricity to houses and businesses.

How electric field is used

Wrap Up

Understanding electric fields is a crucial step towards grasping the principles of electricity. While we can’t see these fields, we can see their effects and use them to predict the behavior of charges and electrical systems.

As we journey further into the realm of electrical theory, we’ll explore how electric fields interact with magnetic fields, leading to the phenomenon of electromagnetism — a cornerstone of modern electrical and electronic technology. But before we jump into that, it’s essential to grasp how electric fields and magnetic fields differ, how they interact, and how these interactions shape the world around us.

For now, remember that the invisible force field surrounding electric charges, the electric field, is instrumental in creating, controlling, and harnessing electricity. Up next, we’ll be focusing on the nature of magnetic fields, setting the stage for the grand unification of the two fields in the form of electromagnetism. Stay charged and stay tuned for the next enlightening article!

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