Physical Principles: Electrostatics

  • Peter R. Bergethon


The essence of chemical interactions is electrical. Except for nuclear chemistry, all interactions between molecules are electronic in nature. Biophysical chemistry is built on the foundation of the physics of electricity. Electricity results from the separation of charge and is concerned with the behavior of charges—either at rest or in dynamic motion. The study of the behavior of charges at rest is called electrostatics. Electrodynamic phenomena occur when charges are in motion, and these are described by the laws of electromagnetics. The transport and behavior of charge in chemical systems is the basis of electrochemical studies. The type of charge carrier depends on the environment. In metal conductors charge is carried predominantly by electrons, whereas ions carry the majority of the charge in aqueous solutions. The study of interactions of ions with their environment is called ionics; the study of electron behavior in the solid state is electronics; and the study of charge transfer across an interface (an electrode) is the study of electrodics. We focus first on electrostatic behavior.


Potential Energy Field Line Point Charge Electric Force Equipotential Surface 
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Further Reading


  1. Feynman R. P., Leighton R. B., and Sands M. (1963) The Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume 1. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, MA.Google Scholar
  2. Fishbane P. M., Gasiorowicz S., and Thornton S. T. (1993) Physics for Scientists and Engineers. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar
  3. Halliday D., Resnick R., and Walker J. (1995) Fundamentals of Physics, 5th ed. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Honig B., and Nicholls A. (1995) Classical electrostatics in biology and chemistry, Science, 268: 114–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Tipler, P. A. (1982) Physics. 2d ed. Worth Publishers, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Warren W. S. (1993) The Physical Basis of Chemistry. Academic Press Co., San Diego.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Bergethon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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