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Coulomb's Law

Last updated date: 23rd May 2024
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What is Coulomb's Law?

To define Coulomb's Law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, it is an experimental law of Physics. It quantifies the amount of force between two stationary and electrically charged particles. The electric force present between the charged bodies at rest is conventionally referred to as a Coulomb force or electrostatic force. The quantity of the electrostatic force between the stationary charges is always described by Coulomb's Law. It’s necessary for the development of electromagnetism theory. It may be a starting point because nowadays it is possible to discuss the quantity of electric charge in a meaningful way.


Coulomb’s law is quite extensively used in various measurements of attraction and repulsion of bodies. According to this law, it is seen that the force of attraction or repulsion that is experienced within the body will be directly proportional to the product of their charges and is inversely proportional to the product of the charges involved. For students who would like to know more about Coulomb's Law - History, Formula, Conditions, Limitations and Important FAQs can now read on Vedantu where entire information regarding Coulomb's law and its derivation will be provided.

History of Coulomb’s Law

In 1785, for the first time, a French physicist named Charles Augustin de Coulomb coined a tangible relationship in the mathematical form between the two bodies, which are electrically charged. He also published an equation for the force causing the bodies either to attract or repel each other, which is called Coulomb’s Law or Coulomb’s inverse-square law.


Properties of the Coulomb's Law 

In Coulomb's Law one of the point charges tend to exert a force on the other point charge in order to satisfy the properties that can be provided as follows:

1. The force that is involved will either be repulsive or attractive

2. The force will be directed along the line that connects the two particles imaginarily

3. Like charges tend to repel while opposite charges tend to attract each other

4. The charges that are involved will either be negative or positive they can never be   neutral

5. The force magnitude is directly proportional to the magnitude of both the charges that are interacting

6. The force tends to be inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two particles that are interacting

7. If there are multiple point charges that are involved in the interaction then each of the point charges tends to exert an individual force on the other point charges which will be irrespective of the neighbouring charges.


The Formula of Coulomb’s Law

Coulomb’s law formula can be defined both in terms of scalar and vector form.

  • Scalar Form

In its scalar form, the Coulomb’s Law is given by,


\[F = K_{e} \frac{q_{1}q_{2}}{r^{2}} \]

Where ‘ke’ is the constant of the Coulomb's Law (ke ≈ 8.99 × 109 N⋅m2⋅C−2), q1, q2 are the charges’ signed magnitudes, and the scalar ‘r’ is the distance between the charges. The interaction force between the charges is attractive if the charges have opposite signs (means F is negative) and repulsive if like-signed (means F is positive).

  • Vector Form


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Considering the above representation, the Coulomb’s Law in vector form can be given by,


\[ \overline{F_{12}} = \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon _{0}} . \frac{q_{1}q_{2}}{r_{12}^{2}} \widehat{r_{12}} ;  \overline{F_{12}} =  - \overline{F_{21}} \]

Here, F12 is the exerted force by q1 on q2, whereas, F21 is the force exerted by q2 on q1.

Coulomb's Law holds for stationary charges, which are only point sized. This Law also obeys Newton’s Third Law.


(i.e \[\overline{F_{12}} = - \overline{ F_{21}} \])

Force on a charged particle because of several point charges is the resultant of forces due to the individual point charges, i.e.,


\[\overline{F} = \overline{F_{1}} + \overline{F_{2}} + \overline{F_{3}} + ……..\]

Coulomb’s Law - Conditions for Stability

If ‘q’ is displaced slightly towards A, FA increases in magnitude while FB decreases in magnitude. Now the net force on ‘q’ is towards A, and so it will not return to its original position. Therefore, the equilibrium is unstable for axial displacement.


If ‘q’ is displaced perpendicular to AB, then the force FA and FB bring the charge to its original position. So for a perpendicular displacement, the equilibrium is stable.


1 Coulomb of Charge:

A coulomb is a charge, which repels an equal charge of the same sign having a force of 9×109 N while the charges are apart one meter in a vacuum. Coulomb force is the conservative internal and mutual force.


The value of εo is given by,


8.86 × 10-12 C2/Nm2 or else, as, 8.86 × 10-12 Fm–1


It is to note that the Coulomb force remains true only for the static charges.


Key Points on Coulomb’s Law

  • Kr2 = constant or K1r12 = K2r22

  • When the force between two charges in two various media is the same for different separations, \[F = \frac{1}{K} \frac{1}{4 \pi \epsilon _{0}} . \frac{q_{1}q_{2}}{r^{2}} =  Constant \]

  • If the force between two charges that are separated by a distance ‘r0’ in a vacuum is similar to the force between the same charges separated by a distance of ‘r’ in a medium, then based on the Coulomb’s Law; Kr2 = r02

  • Two spherical conductors having the charges as q1 and q2 and radii as r1 and r2 are kept in contact and thereafter separated the conductors’ charges after contact is given by 

\[q_{1} = \begin{bmatrix} \frac{r_{1}}{r_{1} + r_{2}} \end{bmatrix} (q_{1} + q_{2})\] 

\[q_{2} = \begin{bmatrix} \frac{r_{2}}{r_{1} + r_{2}} \end{bmatrix} (q_{1} + q_{2})\]

  • Two identical conductors having q1 and q2 charges are kept into contact and then separated after each will have the same charge that is equal to \[\frac{q_{1} + q_{2}}{2} \] If the charges are q1, -q2, then each contains a charge which is equal to \[\frac{q_{1} - q_{2}}{2} \] 

  • If the charges are q1, -q2 then,  \[F = \frac{F(q_{1} + q_{2})^{2}}{4q_{1}q_{2}} \] 

  • If the force of repulsion or attraction between two identical conductors with the charges q1, q2, when separated with a distance ‘d’, is F. If they are also kept into contact and separated by the same distance, then the new force between them is given by,  \[F = \frac{F(q_{1} + q_{2})^{2}}{4q_{1}q_{2}} \] 

  • Between the two electrons separated by a certain distance, the Gravitational force/Electrical force = 1042

  • Between an electron and a proton separated by a certain distance, the Gravitational force/Electrical force = 1039

  • Between the two protons separated by a certain distance, the Gravitational force/Electrical force = 1036

  • The relationship between the permeability of free space, the velocity of light, and the permittivity of free space is described by the expression c = 1 / √ (μoεo)


Limitations of Coulomb’s Law

  • Coulomb’s Law is applicable only for the point charges which are at rest

  • This Law can only be applied in the cases where the inverse square law is obeyed

  • It is difficult to implement this Law where the charges are in arbitrary shape because in those cases we cannot determine the distance between the charges

  • The Law cannot be used directly to calculate the charge on the big planets.


Solved Example

When the Two-Point Charges, q1 = +9 μC, and q2 = 4 μC, are Separated with a Distance r = 12 cm, Calculate the Magnitude of the Electric Force.


[Given that, k = 8.988 x 109 Nm2 C−2, q1 = 9 ×10-6 C, q2 = 4 ×10-6 C, and r = 12cm = 0.12 m.]


\[ Fe = k \frac{(q_{1}q_{2})}{r^{2}} \]  


=\[\frac{ (8.99 \times 109 (9 \times 10 - 6) (4 \times 10-6))}{(0.122)}\]


= \[\frac{(8.99 \times 109(3.6 \times 10-11))}{(0.0144)}\]


= \[\frac{(0.32364)}{(0.01444)}\]


Finally, Fe = 22.475 N.



The article covers all the important concepts of Coulomb’s Law. It is an important law that builds a strong concept and is applicable in different places. The article discuss about its history, properties and formula etc.

FAQs on Coulomb's Law

1. What is the meaning of absolute permittivity as provided in Coulomb’s law?

In electromagnetism, absolute permittivity is said to be the measure of the resistance that is encountered when an electric field is being formed in a medium. In other words, it can also be expressed as the measure of how an electric field will affect and will be affected by a dielectric medium that it is present in. Permittivity is also directly related to electric susceptibility which is also a measure of how easily a dielectric polarizes in response to an electric field surrounding it.

2. What is the meaning of the dielectric constant of the medium that has been mentioned in Coulomb’s law?

The dielectric constant of a medium is also commonly called the relative permittivity or specific inductive capacity. It is the property of an electrically insulating material equal to the capacitance of a capacitor which is filled with a material divided by the capacitance of an identical capacitor in a vacuum without the presence of a dielectric material. The ratio of these two quantities will provide the dielectric constant of a medium. When the dielectric is placed between two parallel plate capacitors it tends to increase the capacitance also known as the ability to store opposite charges on each plate.

3. Who was the person who found out about Coulomb’s law?

It was a Greek Philosopher called Thales of Miletus around 600 BC who found out about this law where the two bodies if they are electrically charged with static electricity will either repulse or attract each other which will be done depending on their nature. Though this was just an observation that did not contain any conclusive evidence or any mathematical relation to proving the same. It was centuries later in about 1785 that Charles Augustin de Coulomb found out the relation between the charges and their properties.

4. What are the similarities between the electrical and gravitational forces with regards to Coulomb’s law?

Both the forces are the electrical force and the gravitational forces are non-contact forces. It is seen that Coulomb's law equation for electrical forces has a very strong resemblance to the gravitational force equation and these two are almost the same. Both of the equations show an inverse square relation between the force and separation distance of the two bodies involved. And both of these questions also show that the force is proportional to the product of the quantity that causes the force whereas in the case of gravitational force it is mass and in the case of electrical force it is the charge.

5. How to learn more about Coulomb's Law - History, Formula, Conditions, Limitations, and Important FAQs?

To learn more about the Coulomb's Law - History, Formula, Conditions, Limitations, and Important FAQs students can check out Vedantu where a detailed view of the same will be provided. Students can also access the Vedantu NCERT Solutions for Physics that will help them understand the concepts and the solved examples that are involved. Students will also obtain the Vedantu important question for Physics that will help them prepare effectively for their exams. With free facilities being provided via Vedantu for students it has become easier to start preparing for the exams on your own.

6. Explain the Applications of Coulomb’s Law?

Coulomb's Law’s applications are used to:

  • Calculate the force and distance between the two charges

  • Calculate the electric field using the formula given below as

E =  F/Qr (N/C)

Where 'E' is the electric field's strength, F is the Electrostatic Force, and QT is the Test charge in coulombs.

  • To calculate the force on one point because of the presence of several points (as a theorem of superposition)