Electric charge

Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. There are two-types of electric charges; positive and negative (commonly carried by protons and electrons respectively). Like charges repel and unlike attract. An object with an absence of net charge is referred to as neutral. Early knowledge of how charged substances interact is now called classical electrodynamics, and is still accurate for problems that do not require consideration of quantum effects.

Electric charge is a conserved property; the net charge of an isolated system, the amount of positive charge minus the amount of negative charge, cannot change. Electric charge is carried by subatomic particles. In ordinary matter, negative charge is carried by electrons, and positive charge is carried by the protons in the nuclei of atoms. If there are more electrons than protons in a piece of matter, it will have a negative charge, if there are fewer it will have a positive charge, and if there are equal numbers it will be neutral. Charge is quantized; it comes in integer multiples of individual small units called the elementary charge, e, about 1.602×10−19 coulombs,[1] which is the smallest charge which can exist freely (particles called quarks have smaller charges, multiples of 1/3e, but they are only found in combination, and always combine to form particles with integer charge). The proton has a charge of +e, and the electron has a charge of −e.

An electric charge has an electric field, and if the charge is moving it also generates a magnetic field. The combination of the electric and magnetic field is called the electromagnetic field, and its interaction with charges is the source of the electromagnetic force, which is one of the four fundamental forces in physics. The study of photon-mediated interactions among charged particles is called quantum electrodynamics.

The SI derived unit of electric charge is the coulomb (C) named after French physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb. In electrical engineering, it is also common to use the ampere-hour (Ah); in physics and chemistry, it is common to use the elementary charge (e as a unit). Chemistry also uses the Faraday constant as the charge on a mole of electrons. The symbol Q often denotes charge.

Electric charge
VFPt charges plus minus thumb
Electric field of a positive and a negative point charge
Common symbols
SI unitcoulomb
Other units
In SI base unitsC = A s
DimensionT I


Electric field point lines equipotentials
Diagram showing field lines and equipotentials around an electron, a negatively charged particle. In an electrically neutral atom, the number of electrons is equal to the number of protons (which are positively charged), resulting in a net zero overall charge

Charge is the fundamental property of forms of matter that exhibit electrostatic attraction or repulsion in the presence of other matter. Electric charge is a characteristic property of many subatomic particles. The charges of free-standing particles are integer multiples of the elementary charge e; we say that electric charge is quantized. Michael Faraday, in his electrolysis experiments, was the first to note the discrete nature of electric charge. Robert Millikan's oil drop experiment demonstrated this fact directly, and measured the elementary charge. It has been discovered that one type of particle, quarks, have fractional charges of either −1/3 or +2/3, but it is believed they always occur in multiples of integral charge; free-standing quarks have never been observed.

By convention, the charge of an electron is negative, −e, while that of a proton is positive, +e. Charged particles whose charges have the same sign repel one another, and particles whose charges have different signs attract. Coulomb's law quantifies the electrostatic force between two particles by asserting that the force is proportional to the product of their charges, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. The charge of an antiparticle equals that of the corresponding particle, but with opposite sign.

The electric charge of a macroscopic object is the sum of the electric charges of the particles that make it up. This charge is often small, because matter is made of atoms, and atoms typically have equal numbers of protons and electrons, in which case their charges cancel out, yielding a net charge of zero, thus making the atom neutral.

An ion is an atom (or group of atoms) that has lost one or more electrons, giving it a net positive charge (cation), or that has gained one or more electrons, giving it a net negative charge (anion). Monatomic ions are formed from single atoms, while polyatomic ions are formed from two or more atoms that have been bonded together, in each case yielding an ion with a positive or negative net charge.

Electric field induced by a positive electric charge (left) and a field induced by a negative electric charge (right).

VFPt plus thumb
VFPt minus thumb

During formation of macroscopic objects, constituent atoms and ions usually combine to form structures composed of neutral ionic compounds electrically bound to neutral atoms. Thus macroscopic objects tend toward being neutral overall, but macroscopic objects are rarely perfectly net neutral.

Sometimes macroscopic objects contain ions distributed throughout the material, rigidly bound in place, giving an overall net positive or negative charge to the object. Also, macroscopic objects made of conductive elements, can more or less easily (depending on the element) take on or give off electrons, and then maintain a net negative or positive charge indefinitely. When the net electric charge of an object is non-zero and motionless, the phenomenon is known as static electricity. This can easily be produced by rubbing two dissimilar materials together, such as rubbing amber with fur or glass with silk. In this way non-conductive materials can be charged to a significant degree, either positively or negatively. Charge taken from one material is moved to the other material, leaving an opposite charge of the same magnitude behind. The law of conservation of charge always applies, giving the object from which a negative charge is taken a positive charge of the same magnitude, and vice versa.

Even when an object's net charge is zero, charge can be distributed non-uniformly in the object (e.g., due to an external electromagnetic field, or bound polar molecules). In such cases the object is said to be polarized. The charge due to polarization is known as bound charge, while charge on an object produced by electrons gained or lost from outside the object is called free charge. The motion of electrons in conductive metals in a specific direction is known as electric current.


The SI derived unit of quantity of electric charge is the coulomb (symbol: C). The coulomb is defined as the quantity of charge that passes through the cross section of an electrical conductor carrying one ampere for one second.[2] This unit was proposed in 1946 and ratified in 1948.[2] In modern practice, the phrase "amount of charge" is used instead of "quantity of charge".[3] The amount of charge in 1 electron (elementary charge) is approximately 1.6×10−19 C, and 1 coulomb corresponds to the amount of charge for about 6.24×1018 electrons. The symbol Q is often used to denote a quantity of electricity or charge. The quantity of electric charge can be directly measured with an electrometer, or indirectly measured with a ballistic galvanometer.

After finding the quantized character of charge, in 1891 George Stoney proposed the unit 'electron' for this fundamental unit of electrical charge. This was before the discovery of the particle by J. J. Thomson in 1897. The unit is today treated as nameless, referred to as elementary charge, fundamental unit of charge, or simply as e. A measure of charge should be a multiple of the elementary charge e, even if at large scales charge seems to behave as a real quantity. In some contexts it is meaningful to speak of fractions of a charge; for example in the charging of a capacitor, or in the fractional quantum Hall effect.

The unit faraday is sometimes used in electrochemistry. One faraday of charge is the magnitude of the charge of one mole of electrons,[4] i.e. 96485.33289(59) C.

In systems of units other than SI such as cgs, electric charge is expressed as combination of only three fundamental quantities (length, mass, and time), and not four, as in SI, where electric charge is a combination of length, mass, time, and electric current.[5][6]


Coulomb's torsion balance

From ancient times, persons were familiar with four types of phenomena that today would all be explained using the concept of electric charge: (a) lightning, (b) the torpedo fish (or electric ray), (c) St Elmo's Fire, and (d) that amber rubbed with fur would attract small, light objects.[7] The first account of the amber effect is often attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Thales of Miletus, who lived from c. 624 – c. 546 BC, but there are doubts about whether Thales left any writings;[8] his account about amber is known from an account from early 200s.[9] This account can be taken as evidence that the phenomenon was known since at least c. 600 BC, but Thales explained this phenomenon as evidence for inanimate objects having a soul.[9] In other words, there was no indication of any conception of electric charge. More generally, the ancient Greeks did not understand the connections among these four kinds of phenomena. The Greeks observed that the charged amber buttons could attract light objects such as hair. They also found that if they rubbed the amber for long enough, they could even get an electric spark to jump, but there is also a claim that no mention of electric sparks appeared until late 17th century.[10] This property derives from the triboelectric effect. In late 1100s, the substance jet, a compacted form of coal, was noted to have an amber effect,[11] and in the middle of the 1500s, Girolamo Fracastoro, discovered that diamond also showed this effect.[12] Some efforts were made by Fracastoro and others, especially Gerolamo Cardano to develop explanations for this phenomenon.[13]

In contrast to astronomy, mechanics, and optics, which had been studied quantitatively since antiquity, the start of ongoing qualitative and quantitative research into electrical phenomena can be marked with the publication of De Magnete by the English scientist William Gilbert in 1600.[14] In this book, there was a small section where Gilbert returned to the amber effect (as he called it) in addressing many of the earlier theories,[13] and coined the New Latin word electrica (from ἤλεκτρον (ēlektron), the Greek word for amber). The Latin word was translated into English as electrics.[15] Gilbert is also credited with the term electrical, while the term electricity came later, first attributed to Sir Thomas Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica from 1646.[16] (For more linguistic details see Etymology of electricity.) Gilbert hypothesized that this amber effect could be explained by an effluvium (a small stream of particles that flows from the electric object, without diminishing its bulk or weight) that acts on other objects. This idea of a material electrical effluvium was influential in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a precursor to ideas developed in the 18th century about "electric fluid" (Dufay, Nollet, Franklin) and "electric charge."[17]

Around 1663 Otto von Guericke invented what was probably the first electrostatic generator, but he did not recognize it primarily as an electrical device and only conducted minimal electrical experiments with it.[18] Other European pioneers were Robert Boyle, who in 1675 published the first book in English that was devoted solely to electrical phenomena.[19] His work was largely a repetition of Gilbert's studies, but he also identified several more "electrics",[20] and noted mutual attraction between two bodies.[19]

In 1729 Stephen Gray was experimenting with static electricity, which he generated using a glass tube. He noticed that a cork, used to protect the tube from dust and moisture, also became electrified (charged). Further experiments (e.g, extending the cork by putting thin sticks into it) showed – for the first time – that electrical effluvia (as Gray called it) could be transmitted (conducted) over a distance. Gray managed to transmit charge with twine (765 feet) and wire (865 feet).[21] Through these experiments, Gray discovered the importance of different materials, which facilitated or hindered the conduction of electrical effluvia. John Theophilus Desaguliers, who repeated many of Gray’s experiments, is credited with coining the terms conductors and insulators to refer to the effects of different materials in these experiments.[21] Gray also discovered electrical induction (i.e., where charge could be transmitted from one object to another without any direct physical contact). For example, he showed that by bringing a charged glass tube close to, but not touching, a lump of lead that was sustained by a thread, it was possible to make the lead become electrified (e.g., to attract and repel brass filings).[22] He attempted to explain this phenomenon with the idea of electrical effluvia.[23]

Gray’s discoveries introduced an important shift in the historical development of knowledge about electric charge. The fact that electrical effluvia could be transferred from one object to another, opened the theoretical possibility that this property was not inseparably connected to the bodies that were electrified by rubbing.[24] In 1733 Charles François de Cisternay du Fay, inspired by Gray's work, made a series of experiments (reported in Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences), showing that more or less all substances could be 'electrified' by rubbing, except for metals and fluids[25] and proposed that electricity comes in two varieties that cancel each other, which he expressed in terms of a two-fluid theory.[26] When glass was rubbed with silk, du Fay said that the glass was charged with vitreous electricity, and, when amber was rubbed with fur, the amber was charged with resinous electricity. Another important two-fluid theory from this time was proposed by Jean-Antoine Nollet (1745).[27] In 1839, Michael Faraday showed that the apparent division between static electricity, current electricity, and bioelectricity was incorrect, and all were a consequence of the behavior of a single kind of electricity appearing in opposite polarities. It is arbitrary which polarity is called positive and which is called negative. Positive charge can be defined as the charge left on a glass rod after being rubbed with silk.[28]

Up until about 1745, the main explanation for electrical attraction and repulsion was the idea that electrified bodies gave off an effluvium.[29] Benjamin Franklin started electrical experiments in late 1746,[30] and by 1750 had developed a one-fluid theory of electricity, based on an experiment that showed that a rubbed glass received the same, but opposite, charge strength as the cloth used to rub the glass.[30][31] Franklin imagined electricity as being a type of invisible fluid present in all matter; for example, he believed that it was the glass in a Leyden jar that held the accumulated charge. He posited that rubbing insulating surfaces together caused this fluid to change location, and that a flow of this fluid constitutes an electric current. He also posited that when matter contained too little of the fluid it was negatively charged, and when it had an excess it was positively charged. For a reason that was not recorded, he identified the term positive with vitreous electricity and negative with resinous electricity. William Watson independently arrived at the same explanation at about the same time (1746). After Franklin's work, effluvia-based explanations were rarely put forward.[32]

It is now known that the Franklin–Watson model was fundamentally correct. There is only one kind of electrical charge, and only one variable is required to keep track of the amount of charge.[33]

Until 1800 it was only possible to study conduction of electric charge by using an electrostatic discharge. In 1800 Alessandro Volta was the first to show that charge could be maintained in continuous motion through a closed path.[34]

The role of charge in static electricity

Static electricity refers to the electric charge of an object and the related electrostatic discharge when two objects are brought together that are not at equilibrium. An electrostatic discharge creates a change in the charge of each of the two objects.

Electrification by friction

When a piece of glass and a piece of resin—neither of which exhibit any electrical properties—are rubbed together and left with the rubbed surfaces in contact, they still exhibit no electrical properties. When separated, they attract each other.

A second piece of glass rubbed with a second piece of resin, then separated and suspended near the former pieces of glass and resin causes these phenomena:

  • The two pieces of glass repel each other.
  • Each piece of glass attracts each piece of resin.
  • The two pieces of resin repel each other.

This attraction and repulsion is an electrical phenomenon, and the bodies that exhibit them are said to be electrified, or electrically charged. Bodies may be electrified in many other ways, as well as by friction. The electrical properties of the two pieces of glass are similar to each other but opposite to those of the two pieces of resin: The glass attracts what the resin repels and repels what the resin attracts.

If a body electrified in any manner whatsoever behaves as the glass does, that is, if it repels the glass and attracts the resin, the body is said to be vitreously electrified, and if it attracts the glass and repels the resin it is said to be resinously electrified. All electrified bodies are either vitreously or resinously electrified.

An established convention in the scientific community defines vitreous electrification as positive, and resinous electrification as negative. The exactly opposite properties of the two kinds of electrification justify our indicating them by opposite signs, but the application of the positive sign to one rather than to the other kind must be considered as a matter of arbitrary convention—just as it is a matter of convention in mathematical diagram to reckon positive distances towards the right hand.

No force, either of attraction or of repulsion, can be observed between an electrified body and a body not electrified.[35]

The role of charge in electric current

Electric current is the flow of electric charge through an object, which produces no net loss or gain of electric charge. The most common charge carriers are the positively charged proton and the negatively charged electron. The movement of any of these charged particles constitutes an electric current. In many situations, it suffices to speak of the conventional current without regard to whether it is carried by positive charges moving in the direction of the conventional current or by negative charges moving in the opposite direction. This macroscopic viewpoint is an approximation that simplifies electromagnetic concepts and calculations.

At the opposite extreme, if one looks at the microscopic situation, one sees there are many ways of carrying an electric current, including: a flow of electrons; a flow of electron holes that act like positive particles; and both negative and positive particles (ions or other charged particles) flowing in opposite directions in an electrolytic solution or a plasma.

Beware that, in the common and important case of metallic wires, the direction of the conventional current is opposite to the drift velocity of the actual charge carriers; i.e., the electrons. This is a source of confusion for beginners.

Conservation of electric charge

The total electric charge of an isolated system remains constant regardless of changes within the system itself. This law is inherent to all processes known to physics and can be derived in a local form from gauge invariance of the wave function. The conservation of charge results in the charge-current continuity equation. More generally, the rate of change in charge density ρ within a volume of integration V is equal to the area integral over the current density J through the closed surface S = ∂V, which is in turn equal to the net current I:


Thus, the conservation of electric charge, as expressed by the continuity equation, gives the result:

The charge transferred between times and is obtained by integrating both sides:

where I is the net outward current through a closed surface and Q is the electric charge contained within the volume defined by the surface.

Relativistic invariance

Aside from the properties described in articles about electromagnetism, charge is a relativistic invariant. This means that any particle that has charge Q, no matter how fast it goes, always has charge Q. This property has been experimentally verified by showing that the charge of one helium nucleus (two protons and two neutrons bound together in a nucleus and moving around at high speeds) is the same as two deuterium nuclei (one proton and one neutron bound together, but moving much more slowly than they would if they were in a helium nucleus).[36][37][38]

See also


  1. ^ "CODATA Value: elementary charge". The NIST Reference on Constants, Units, and Uncertainty. US National Institute of Standards and Technology. June 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-22. 2014 CODATA recommended values
  2. ^ a b "CIPM, 1946: Resolution 2". BIPM.
  3. ^ International Bureau of Weights and Measures (2006), The International System of Units (SI) (PDF) (8th ed.), ISBN 92-822-2213-6, archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-08-14, p. 150
  4. ^ Gambhir, RS; Banerjee, D; Durgapal, MC (1993). Foundations of Physics, Vol. 2. New Dehli: Wiley Eastern Limited. p. 51. ISBN 9788122405231. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  5. ^ Carron, Neal J. (21 May 2015). "Babel of units: The evolution of units systems in classical electromagnetism". p. 5. arXiv:1506.01951 [physics.hist-ph].
  6. ^ Purcell, Edward M.; David J. Morin (2013). Electricity and Magnetism (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 766. ISBN 9781107014022.
  7. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1954). The development of the concept of electric charge: Electricity from the Greeks to Coulomb. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 1.
  8. ^ O'Grady, Patricia F. (2002). Thales of Miletus: The Beginnings of Western Science and Philosophy. Ashgate. p. 8. ISBN 978-1351895378.
  9. ^ a b Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius, Book 1, §24
  10. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1953). "The Prenatal History of Electrical Science". American Journal of Physics. 21 (5): 348. Bibcode:1953AmJPh..21..343R. doi:10.1119/1.1933449.
  11. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1953). "The Prenatal History of Electrical Science". American Journal of Physics. 21 (5): 351. Bibcode:1953AmJPh..21..343R. doi:10.1119/1.1933449.
  12. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1953). "The Prenatal History of Electrical Science". American Journal of Physics. 21 (5): 353. Bibcode:1953AmJPh..21..343R. doi:10.1119/1.1933449.
  13. ^ a b Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1953). "The Prenatal History of Electrical Science". American Journal of Physics. 21 (5): 356. Bibcode:1953AmJPh..21..343R. doi:10.1119/1.1933449.
  14. ^ Roche, J.J. (1998). The mathematics of measurement. London: The Athlone Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0387915814.
  15. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1954). The development of the concept of electric charge: Electricity from the Greeks to Coulomb. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 6–7.
    Heilbron, J.L. (1979). Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics. University of California Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-520-03478-5.
  16. ^ Brother Potamian; Walsh, J.J. (1909). Makers of electricity. New York: Fordham University Press. p. 70.
  17. ^ Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 11.
  18. ^ Heathcote, N.H. de V. (1950). "Guericke's sulphur globe". Annals of Science. 6 (3): 304. doi:10.1080/00033795000201981.
    Heilbron, J.L. (1979). Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: a study of early Modern physics. University of California Press. pp. 215–218. ISBN 0-520-03478-3.
  19. ^ a b Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 20.
  20. ^ Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 21.
  21. ^ a b Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 27.
  22. ^ Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 28.
  23. ^ Heilbron, J.L. (1979). Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics. University of California Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-520-03478-5.
  24. ^ Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 35.
  25. ^ Roller, Duane; Roller, D.H.D. (1954). The development of the concept of electric charge: Electricity from the Greeks to Coulomb. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 40.
  26. ^ Two Kinds of Electrical Fluid: Vitreous and Resinous – 1733. Charles François de Cisternay DuFay (1698–1739) Archived 2009-05-26 at the Wayback Machine. sparkmuseum.com
  27. ^ Heilbron, J.L. (1979). Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics. University of California Press. pp. 280–289. ISBN 978-0-520-03478-5.
  28. ^ Roald K. Wangsness (1986) Electromagnetic Fields (2nd Ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-471-81186-6.
  29. ^ Heilbron, John (2003). "Leyden jar and electrophore". In Heilbron, John (ed.). The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 459. ISBN 9780195112290.
  30. ^ a b Baigrie, Brian (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 38.
  31. ^ Guarnieri, Massimo (2014). "Electricity in the Age of Enligtenment". IEEE Industrial Electronics Magazine. 8 (3): 61. doi:10.1109/MIE.2014.2335431.
  32. ^ Tricker, R.A.R (1965). Early electrodynamics: The first law of circulation. Oxford: Pergamon. p. 2. ISBN 9781483185361.
  33. ^ Denker, John (2007). "One Kind of Charge". www.av8n.com/physics. Archived from the original on 2016-02-05.
  34. ^ Zangwill, Andrew (2013). Modern Electrodynamics. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-521-89697-9.
  35. ^ James Clerk Maxwell (1891) A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, pp. 32–33, Dover Publications
  36. ^ Jefimenko, O.D. (1999). "Relativistic invariance of electric charge" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Naturforschung A. 54 (10–11): 637–644. Bibcode:1999ZNatA..54..637J. doi:10.1515/zna-1999-10-1113. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  37. ^ "How can we prove charge invariance under Lorentz Transformation?". physics.stackexchange.com. Retrieved 2018-03-27.
  38. ^ Singal, A.K. (1992). "On the charge invariance and relativistic electric fields from a steady conduction current". Physics Letters A. 162 (2): 91–95. Bibcode:1992PhLA..162...91S. doi:10.1016/0375-9601(92)90982-R. ISSN 0375-9601.

External links

Ampere hour

An ampere hour or amp hour (symbol Ah; also denoted A⋅h or A h) is a unit of electric charge, having dimensions of electric current multiplied by time, equal to the charge transferred by a steady current of one ampere flowing for one hour, or 3600 coulombs. The commonly seen milliampere hour (mAh or mA⋅h) is one-thousandth of an ampere hour (3.6 coulombs).


In particle physics, every type of particle has an associated antiparticle with the same mass but with opposite physical charges (such as electric charge). For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the antielectron (which is often referred to as positron). While the electron has a negative electric charge, the positron has a positive electric charge, and is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay. The opposite is also true: the antiparticle of the positron is the electron.

Some particles, such as the photon, are their own antiparticle. Otherwise, for each pair of antiparticle partners, one is designated as normal matter (the kind all matter usually interacted with is made of), and the other (usually given the prefix "anti-") as antimatter.

Particle–antiparticle pairs can annihilate each other, producing photons; since the charges of the particle and antiparticle are opposite, total charge is conserved. For example, the positrons produced in natural radioactive decay quickly annihilate themselves with electrons, producing pairs of gamma rays, a process exploited in positron emission tomography.

The laws of nature are very nearly symmetrical with respect to particles and antiparticles. For example, an antiproton and a positron can form an antihydrogen atom, which is believed to have the same properties as a hydrogen atom. This leads to the question of why the formation of matter after the Big Bang resulted in a universe consisting almost entirely of matter, rather than being a half-and-half mixture of matter and antimatter. The discovery of Charge Parity violation helped to shed light on this problem by showing that this symmetry, originally thought to be perfect, was only approximate.

Because charge is conserved, it is not possible to create an antiparticle without either destroying another particle of the same charge (as is for instance the case when antiparticles are produced naturally via beta decay or the collision of cosmic rays with Earth's atmosphere), or by the simultaneous creation of both a particle and its antiparticle, which can occur in particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Although particles and their antiparticles have opposite charges, electrically neutral particles need not be identical to their antiparticles. The neutron, for example, is made out of quarks, the antineutron from antiquarks, and they are distinguishable from one another because neutrons and antineutrons annihilate each other upon contact. However, other neutral particles are their own antiparticles, such as photons, Z0 bosons, π0 mesons, and hypothetical gravitons and some hypothetical WIMPs.


The antiproton,
, (pronounced p-bar) is the antiparticle of the proton. Antiprotons are stable, but they are typically short-lived, since any collision with a proton will cause both particles to be annihilated in a burst of energy.

The existence of the antiproton with −1 electric charge, opposite to the +1 electric charge of the proton, was predicted by Paul Dirac in his 1933 Nobel Prize lecture. Dirac received the Nobel Prize for his previous 1928 publication of his Dirac equation that predicted the existence of positive and negative solutions to the Energy Equation () of Einstein and the existence of the positron, the antimatter analog to the electron, with positive charge and opposite spin.

The antiproton was first experimentally confirmed in 1955 at the Bevatron particle accelerator by University of California, Berkeley physicists Emilio Segrè and Owen Chamberlain, for which they were awarded the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physics. In terms of valence quarks, an antiproton consists of two up antiquarks and one down antiquark (uud). The properties of the antiproton that have been measured all match the corresponding properties of the proton, with the exception that the antiproton has electric charge and magnetic moment that are the opposites of those in the proton. The questions of how matter is different from antimatter, and the relevance of antimatter in explaining how our universe survived the Big Bang, remain open problems—open, in part, due to the relative scarcity of antimatter in today's universe.

Charge conservation

In physics, charge conservation is the principle that the total electric charge in an isolated system never changes. The net quantity of electric charge, the amount of positive charge minus the amount of negative charge in the universe, is always conserved. Charge conservation, considered as a physical conservation law, implies that the change in the amount of electric charge in any volume of space is exactly equal to the amount of charge flowing into the volume minus the amount of charge flowing out of the volume. In essence, charge conservation is an accounting relationship between the amount of charge in a region and the flow of charge into and out of that region, given by a continuity equation between charge density and current density .

This does not mean that individual positive and negative charges cannot be created or destroyed. Electric charge is carried by subatomic particles such as electrons and protons. Charged particles can be created and destroyed in elementary particle reactions. In particle physics, charge conservation means that in reactions that create charged particles, equal numbers of positive and negative particles are always created, keeping the net amount of charge unchanged. Similarly, when particles are destroyed, equal numbers of positive and negative charges are destroyed. This property is supported without exception by all empirical observations so far.

Although conservation of charge requires that the total quantity of charge in the universe is constant, it leaves open the question of what that quantity is. Most evidence indicates that the net charge in the universe is zero; that is, there are equal quantities of positive and negative charge.

Charge density

In electromagnetism, charge density is the amount of electric charge per unit length, surface area, or volume. Volume charge density (symbolized by the Greek letter ρ) is the quantity of charge per unit volume, measured in the SI system in coulombs per cubic meter (C•m−3), at any point in a volume. Surface charge density (σ) is the quantity of charge per unit area, measured in coulombs per square meter (C•m−2), at any point on a surface charge distribution on a two dimensional surface. Linear charge density (λ) is the quantity of charge per unit length, measured in coulombs per meter (C•m−1), at any point on a line charge distribution. Charge density can be either positive or negative, since electric charge can be either positive or negative.

Like mass density, charge density can vary with position. In classical electromagnetic theory charge density is idealized as a continuous scalar function of position , like a fluid, and , , and are usually regarded as continuous charge distributions, even though all real charge distributions are made up of discrete charged particles. Due to the conservation of electric charge, the charge density in any volume can only change if an electric current of charge flows into or out of the volume. This is expressed by a continuity equation which links the rate of change of charge density and the current density .

Since all charge is carried by subatomic particles, which can be idealized as points, the concept of a continuous charge distribution is an approximation, which becomes inaccurate at small length scales. A charge distribution is ultimately composed of individual charged particles separated by regions containing no charge. For example the charge in an electrically charged metal object is made up of conduction electrons moving randomly in the metal's crystal lattice. Static electricity is caused by surface charges consisting of ions on the surface of objects, and the space charge in a vacuum tube is composed of a cloud of free electrons moving randomly in space. The charge carrier density in a conductor is equal to the number of mobile charge carriers (electrons, ions, etc.) per unit volume. The charge density at any point is equal to the charge carrier density multiplied by the elementary charge on the particles. However because the elementary charge on an electron is so small (1.6•10−19 C) and there are so many of them in a macroscopic volume (there are about 1022 conduction electrons in a cubic centimeter of copper) the continuous approximation is very accurate when applied to macroscopic volumes, and even microscopic volumes above the nanometer level.

At atomic scales, due to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, a charged particle does not have a precise position but is represented by a probability distribution, so the charge of an individual particle is not concentrated at a point but is 'smeared out' in space and acts like a true continuous charge distribution. This is the meaning of 'charge distribution' and 'charge density' used in chemistry and chemical bonding. An electron is represented by a wavefunction whose square is proportional to the probability of finding the electron at any point in space, so is proportional to the charge density of the electron at any point. In atoms and molecules the charge of the electrons is distributed in clouds called orbitals which surround the atom or molecule, and are responsible for chemical bonds.

Charged black hole

A charged black hole is a black hole that possesses electric charge. Since the electromagnetic repulsion in compressing an electrically charged mass is dramatically greater than the gravitational attraction (by about 40 orders of magnitude), it is not expected that black holes with a significant electric charge will be formed in nature.

A charged black hole is one of three possible types of black holes that could exist in Einstein's theory of gravitation, general relativity. A black hole can be characterized by three (and only three) quantities:

its mass M (it will be called a Schwarzschild black hole if it has no angular momentum and no electric charge),

its angular momentum J (and called a Kerr black hole if it has no charge), and

its electric charge Q (a charged black hole is called a Reissner–Nordström black hole if the angular momentum is zero or a Kerr–Newman black hole if it has both angular momentum and electric charge).A special, mathematically oriented article describes the Reissner–Nordström metric for a charged, non-rotating black hole.

The solutions of Einstein's field equation for the gravitational field of an electrically charged point mass (with zero angular momentum) in empty space was obtained in 1918 by Hans Reissner and Gunnar Nordström, not long after Karl Schwarzschild found the Schwarzschild metric as a solution for a point mass without electric charge and angular momentum.

Charged particle

In physics, a charged particle is a particle with an electric charge. It may be an ion, such as a molecule or atom with a surplus or deficit of electrons relative to protons. It can also be an electron or a proton, or another elementary particle, which are all believed to have the same charge (except antimatter). Another charged particle may be an atomic nucleus devoid of electrons, such as an alpha particle.

A plasma is a collection of charged particles, atomic nuclei and separated electrons, but can also be a gas containing a significant proportion of charged particles.

Color charge

Color charge is a property of quarks and gluons that is related to the particles' strong interactions in the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD).

The "color charge" of quarks and gluons is completely unrelated to the everyday meaning of color. The term color and the labels red, green, and blue became popular simply because of the loose analogy to the primary colors. Richard Feynman referred to his colleagues as "idiot physicists" for choosing the confusing name.Particles have corresponding antiparticles. A particle with red, green, or blue charge has a corresponding antiparticle in which the color charge must be the anticolor of red, green, and blue, respectively, for the color charge to be conserved in particle-antiparticle creation and annihilation. Particle physicists call these antired, antigreen, and antiblue. All three colors mixed together, or any one of these colors and its complement (or negative), is "colorless" or "white" and has a net color charge of zero. Free particles have a color charge of zero: baryons are composed of three quarks, but the individual quarks can have red, green, or blue charges, or negatives; mesons are made from a quark and antiquark, the quark can be any color, and the antiquark will have the negative of that color. This color charge differs from electric charge in that electric charge has only one kind of value. However color charge is also similar to electric charge in that color charge also has a negative charge corresponding to each kind of value.

Shortly after the existence of quarks was first proposed in 1964, Oscar W. Greenberg introduced the notion of color charge to explain how quarks could coexist inside some hadrons in otherwise identical quantum states without violating the Pauli exclusion principle. The theory of quantum chromodynamics has been under development since the 1970s and constitutes an important component of the Standard Model of particle physics.


The coulomb (symbol: C) is the International System of Units (SI) unit of electric charge. It is the charge (symbol: Q or q) transported by a constant current of one ampere in one second:

Thus, it is also the amount of excess charge on a capacitor of one farad charged to a potential difference of one volt:

The coulomb is equivalent to the charge of approximately 6.242×1018 (1.036×10−5 mol) protons, and −1 C is equivalent to the charge of approximately 6.242×1018 electrons.

A new definition, in terms of the elementary charge, will take effect on 20 May 2019. The new definition defines the elementary charge (the charge of the proton) as exactly 1.602176634×10−19 coulombs.

Electric current

An electric current is the rate of flow of electric charge past a point or region. An electric current is said to exist when there is a net flow of electric charge through a region. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).The SI unit of electric current is the ampere , which is the flow of electric charge across a surface at the rate of one coulomb per second. The ampere (symbol: A) is a SI base unit Electric current is measured using a device called an ammeter.Electric currents cause Joule heating, which creates light in incandescent light bulbs. They also create magnetic fields, which are used in motors, inductors and generators.

The moving charged particles in an electric current are called charge carriers. In metals, one or more electrons from each atom are loosely bound to the atom, and can move freely about within the metal. These conduction electrons are the charge carriers in metal conductors.


Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. In early days, electricity was considered as being not related to magnetism. Later on, many experimental results and the development of Maxwell's equations indicated that both electricity and magnetism are from a single phenomenon: electromagnetism. Various common phenomena are related to electricity, including lightning, static electricity, electric heating, electric discharges and many others.

The presence of an electric charge, which can be either positive or negative, produces an electric field. The movement of electric charges is an electric current and produces a magnetic field.

When a charge is placed in a location with a non-zero electric field, a force will act on it. The magnitude of this force is given by Coulomb's law. Thus, if that charge were to move, the electric field would be doing work on the electric charge. Thus we can speak of electric potential at a certain point in space, which is equal to the work done by an external agent in carrying a unit of positive charge from an arbitrarily chosen reference point to that point without any acceleration and is typically measured in volts.

Electricity is at the heart of many modern technologies, being used for:

electric power where electric current is used to energise equipment;

electronics which deals with electrical circuits that involve active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies.Electrical phenomena have been studied since antiquity, though progress in theoretical understanding remained slow until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even then, practical applications for electricity were few, and it would not be until the late nineteenth century that electrical engineers were able to put it to industrial and residential use. The rapid expansion in electrical technology at this time transformed industry and society, becoming a driving force for the Second Industrial Revolution. Electricity's extraordinary versatility means it can be put to an almost limitless set of applications which include transport, heating, lighting, communications, and computation. Electrical power is now the backbone of modern industrial society.

Elementary charge

The elementary charge, usually denoted by e or sometimes qe, is the electric charge carried by a single proton or, equivalently, the magnitude of the electric charge carried by a single electron, which has charge −1 e. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called the elementary positive charge.

This charge has a measured value of approximately 1.6021766208(98)×10−19 C (coulombs). When the 2019 redefinition of SI base units takes effect on 20 May 2019, its value will be exactly 1.602176634×10−19 C by definition of the coulomb. In the centimetre–gram–second system of units (CGS), it is 4.80320425(10)×10−10 statcoulombs.Robert A. Millikan's oil drop experiment first measured the magnitude of the elementary charge in 1909.

Gauss's law

In physics, Gauss's law, also known as Gauss's flux theorem, is a law relating the distribution of electric charge to the resulting electric field.

The surface under consideration may be a closed one enclosing a volume such as a spherical surface.

The law was first formulated by Joseph-Louis Lagrange in 1773, followed by Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1813, both in the context of the attraction of ellipsoids. It is one of Maxwell's four equations, which form the basis of classical electrodynamics. Gauss's law can be used to derive Coulomb's law, and vice versa.

Muon neutrino

The muon neutrino is a lepton, an elementary subatomic particle which has the symbol νμ and no net electric charge. Together with the muon it forms the second generation of leptons, hence the name muon neutrino. It was first hypothesized in the early 1940s by several people, and was discovered in 1962 by Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger. The discovery was rewarded with the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Pair production

Pair production is the creation of a subatomic particle and its antiparticle from a neutral boson. Examples include creating an electron and a positron, a muon and an antimuon, or a proton and an antiproton. Pair production often refers specifically to a photon creating an electron-positron pair near a nucleus. For pair production to occur, the incoming energy of the interaction must be above a threshold of at least the total rest mass energy of the two particles, and the situation must conserve both energy and momentum. However, all other conserved quantum numbers (angular momentum, electric charge, lepton number) of the produced particles must sum to zero – thus the created particles shall have opposite values of each other. For instance, if one particle has electric charge of +1 the other must have electric charge of −1, or if one particle has strangeness of +1 then another one must have strangeness of −1.

The probability of pair production in photon-matter interactions increases with photon energy and also increases approximately as the square of atomic number of the nearby atom.


A quark () is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly observed or found in isolation; they can be found only within hadrons, which include baryons (such as protons and neutrons) and mesons. For this reason, much of what is known about quarks has been drawn from observations of hadrons.

Quarks have various intrinsic properties, including electric charge, mass, color charge, and spin. They are the only elementary particles in the Standard Model of particle physics to experience all four fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces (electromagnetism, gravitation, strong interaction, and weak interaction), as well as the only known particles whose electric charges are not integer multiples of the elementary charge.

There are six types, known as flavors, of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Up and down quarks have the lowest masses of all quarks. The heavier quarks rapidly change into up and down quarks through a process of particle decay: the transformation from a higher mass state to a lower mass state. Because of this, up and down quarks are generally stable and the most common in the universe, whereas strange, charm, bottom, and top quarks can only be produced in high energy collisions (such as those involving cosmic rays and in particle accelerators). For every quark flavor there is a corresponding type of antiparticle, known as an antiquark, that differs from the quark only in that some of its properties (such as the electric charge) have equal magnitude but opposite sign.

The quark model was independently proposed by physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964. Quarks were introduced as parts of an ordering scheme for hadrons, and there was little evidence for their physical existence until deep inelastic scattering experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in 1968. Accelerator experiments have provided evidence for all six flavors. The top quark, first observed at Fermilab in 1995, was the last to be discovered.

Tau neutrino

The tau neutrino or tauon neutrino is a subatomic elementary particle which has the symbol ντ and no net electric charge. Together with the tau, it forms the third generation of leptons, hence the name tau neutrino. Its existence was immediately implied after the tau particle was detected in a series of experiments between 1974 and 1977 by Martin Lewis Perl with his colleagues at the SLAC–LBL group. The discovery of the tau neutrino was announced in July 2000 by the DONUT collaboration (Direct Observation of the Nu Tau).

Vacuum permittivity

The physical constant ε0 (pronounced as “epsilon nought” or “epsilon zero”), commonly called the vacuum permittivity, permittivity of free space or electric constant or the distributed capacitance of the vacuum, is an ideal, (baseline) physical constant, which is the value of the absolute dielectric permittivity of classical vacuum. It has an exactly defined value that can be approximated as

ε0 = 8.854187817...×10−12 F⋅m−1 (farads per metre).

It is the capability of the vacuum to permit electric field lines. This constant relates the units for electric charge to mechanical quantities such as length and force. For example, the force between two separated electric charges (in the vacuum of classical electromagnetism) is given by Coulomb's law:

The value of the constant fraction is approximately 9 × 109 N⋅m2⋅C−2, q1 and q2 are the charges, and r is the distance between them. Likewise, ε0 appears in Maxwell's equations, which describe the properties of electric and magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation, and relate them to their sources.

Weak hypercharge

In the Standard Model of electroweak interactions of particle physics, the weak hypercharge is a quantum number relating the electric charge and the third component of weak isospin. It is frequently denoted YW and corresponds to the gauge symmetry U(1).It is conserved (only terms that are overall weak-hypercharge neutral are allowed in the Lagrangian). However, one of the interactions is with the Higgs field. Since the Higgs field vacuum expectation value is nonzero, particles interact with this field all the time even in vacuum. This changes their weak hypercharge (and weak isospin T3). Only a specific combination of them, Q = T3 + 1/2 YW (electric charge), is conserved.

Mathematically, weak hypercharge appears similar to the Gell-Mann–Nishijima formula for the hypercharge of strong interactions (which is not conserved in weak interactions) and which does not apply to leptons.

Base quantities
See also

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