Superposition Theorem: Definition, Application & Examples

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  • 0:02 Superposition Theorem…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Malec

Chris has a PhD in Physics

This lesson describes the superposition theorem, an important concept in physics in general. Here, we will apply the theorem to electricity in general and point out some important applications.

Superposition Theorem Definition

The superposition principle applies to many areas of physics, but basically, it's a way to combine the electric fields of many charges together to make up a more complicated electric field. It is a great theorem because it makes things simpler instead of more complicated. How often does that happen! You can see the superposition principle in action when you watch multiple rain drops in a lake, or listen to multiple voices in a room.

In the case of rain on a lake, the ripples all go through each other; you can see many separate, circular ripples in the pond. Likewise, all the voices of people talking in a room can be heard at the same time. You can usually pay attention to only one, but any person you listen to will come through clearly. The sound waves do not run into each other. The superposition principle also applies to things we can't see, like electric fields.

Anything with an electric charge creates an electric field. An electric field is invisible, but applies force to anything else with an electric charge. You can think of it like there are many little notecards hanging in space, saying 'a charge q will experience a force qE at this point.' Remember, the electric field E is a vector and has both magnitude and direction. The electric field due to a charge q is easy to calculate, it is E = qr / (4 * pi * epsilon_0 * r^3) where epsilon_0 is a constant and r is the vector between the field point and the charge.

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