What is Electric Charge? – Definition, Properties, Diagram

Introduction to Electric Charge

Electric charge is a fundamental property of matter that plays a significant role in our daily lives. Understanding what electric charge is and its various attributes is essential to comprehending the principles underlying electricity and magnetism. In this article, we will delve into the definition, properties, and measurements of electric charge, as well as explore Coulomb’s Law and its implications. 

What is Charge?

Charge refers to the fundamental property possessed by particles, such as electrons and protons, that allows them to interact electromagnetically. It is this interaction that gives rise to the phenomenon we commonly refer to as electricity. The concept of charge encompasses both positive and negative charges, each with distinct properties and behaviors. 

What is Electric Charge? 

Electric charge refers to the physical property of matter that allows it to experience electromagnetic interactions. This property comes in two flavors: positive and negative. When two objects have charges of the same sign (both positive or both negative), they repel each other. Conversely, objects with charges of opposite signs (one positive and one negative) attract each other. 

Electric charge is carried by subatomic particles known as electrons (negative charge) and protons (positive charge). These particles reside in atoms, which make up all matter. The charge of an electron is considered negative, while the charge of a proton is positive. In the world of electric charge, opposites truly do attract! 

Types of Electric Charge

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of electric charge:  

  • positive electric charge 
  • Negative electric charge 

When we look at objects on a macroscopic scale, most of them are electrically neutral, meaning they have an equal number of protons and electrons, canceling out each other’s charges. 

Electric Charge

However, sometimes objects become charged through various processes. For instance, when you rub a balloon against your hair, the balloon can become negatively charged because it gains extra electrons from your hair. On the other hand, if an object loses electrons, it becomes positively charged. These charged objects can exert forces on one another, leading to fascinating interactions. 

Units of Electric Charge

The standard unit for measuring electric charge is the coulomb, symbolized by the letter “C.”  

One coulomb is equivalent to the charge transported by a constant current of one ampere in one second and it is roughly equivalent to the charge of around 6.24 trillion electrons or protons. In everyday situations, you’re more likely to encounter smaller units like microcoulombs (μC) or milliCoulombs (mC), which are one-millionth and one-thousandth of a coulomb, respectively. It is important to note that electric charge is a scalar quantity, meaning it possesses magnitude but not direction. 

How to Measure Electric Charge? 

Measuring electric charge is typically done using specialized instruments called “charge meters” or “electrometers.” These devices work by detecting the electric force between charged objects and converting it into a numerical value representing the amount of charge present. 

Mathematically it is represented as,


One common way to measure charge is by using a gold-leaf electroscope. This device uses thin gold leaves that repel each other when charged, and their separation can be used to estimate the amount of charge present. Modern electrometers use electronic components to measure charge more precisely. 

Properties of Electric Charge

The properties of electric charge are described below,  

Conservation of Charge 

The principle of conservation of charge states that the total electric charge in a closed system remains constant over time. In simpler terms, charge cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred from one object to another. This property is essential for understanding various phenomena in electricity and magnetism. 

For example, when you rub a balloon against your hair, the balloon gains a negative charge due to the transfer of electrons from your hair. However, the total charge in the system remains the same—electrons are merely redistributed. This law of conservation of charge helps explain why electric circuits work and why the charge on Earth remains constant despite various electrostatic interactions. 

Additivity of Charge 

The additivity of charge means that the total electric charge on an object is the algebraic sum of the individual charges of its constituent particles. In other words, when you have multiple charged objects in proximity, you can simply add up their charges to find the total charge. 

For instance, if you have two objects, one with a charge of +2 microcoulombs (μC) and another with a charge of -3 μC, their combined charge is -1 μC. This property allows us to analyze complex systems by considering the charges on individual components and then adding or subtracting them to determine the net charge. 

Mathematically it is represented as, 

\(q= q_{1} + q_{2} + q_{3} +……..+ q_{n}\)


Polarization is a property of charge that pertains to the redistribution of charges within an insulating material when it is exposed to an external electric field. In polarized materials, the positive and negative charges shift slightly, creating an electric dipole moment within the substance. 

An example of polarization can be seen in dielectric materials inside capacitors. When an electric field is applied, the charges within the dielectric shift, aligning themselves in a way that opposes the external field. This property increases the capacitance of the capacitor, affecting its ability to store electric charge. Polarization is a crucial concept in the design of electronic devices and capacitors. 

Attraction and Repulsion 

One of the most observable properties of electric charge is its ability to cause objects to attract or repel each other. Objects with opposite charges (positive and negative) attract each other, while objects with like charges (both positive or both negative) repel each other. 

This property is evident in everyday life. For instance, when you try to bring two magnets with the same pole close to each other, you feel a strong repulsive force. Conversely, when you bring opposite poles together, they attract each other. The attraction and repulsion between charged objects are fundamental to understanding how charged particles interact in various electrical and magnetic phenomena. 

Quantization of Charge 

One intriguing aspect of electric charge is its quantization, which means it comes in discrete packets. In other words, you can’t have just any amount of charge; it always exists in multiples of the elementary charge, denoted as “e.” The elementary charge is approximately equal to \(-1.602*10^{-19}\) coulombs for electrons and \(1.602*10^{-19}\) coulombs for protons. 

This quantization was a significant discovery in the world of physics, as it showed that charge is not continuous but rather comes in fixed, indivisible units. This concept has far-reaching implications for understanding the behavior of matter on atomic and subatomic scales. 

Mathematically it is represented as, 


What is Coulomb’s Law? 

Coulomb’s Law is a fundamental principle in electromagnetism that describes the force between charged objects. It was formulated by the French physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb in the late 18th century. The law states that the electric force between two-point charges is directly proportional to the product of their magnitudes and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. 

Coulomb’s Law Equation

The mathematical formulation of Coulomb’s Law is expressed as follows:

\(F= \frac{k. \mid q_{1} q_{2} \mid }{ r^{2} } \)

where F represents the force of interaction, q1 and q2 denote the charges of the objects, r represents the distance between them, and k is the proportionality constant. 

\(K=8.988* 10^{9}N \frac{ m^{2} }{ c^{2} }\)

Final Notes

Electric charge is a fundamental concept that underlies the functioning of our modern world. It’s the driving force behind everything from the spark that ignites a gas stove to the flow of electricity in power lines. By understanding the nature of charge, its types, units of measurement, and principles like Coulomb’s Law, we gain insights into the intricate workings of the universe. 

Remember, whether it’s the electrons flowing in a circuit or the charges on a balloon, electric charge plays a pivotal role in shaping our lives. So, the next time you flip a light switch or charge your phone, you’ll have a better appreciation for the electrifying world of electric charge! 

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What is the electric charge of an electron? 

The electric charge of an electron, denoted by the symbol “e,” is approximately equal to -1.6 x 10^-19 coulombs. This negative charge balances the positive charge of a proton, ensuring electrical neutrality within an atom. 

What is the Electric Charge Formula? 

The formula to calculate electric charge is given by: 

Q = n * e 

where Q represents the total charge, n denotes the number of elementary charges, and e stands for the fundamental charge. 

What is electric charge? 

Electric charge refers to the fundamental property of matter that allows particles to interact electromagnetically, leading to electrical phenomena. It encompasses both positive and negative charges, which arise from the presence of an excess or deficit of electrons. 

Define charge. 

In the context of electricity, charge refers to the property held by particles that enables them to interact via electromagnetic forces. It symbolizes the fundamental quality contributing to the formation of electrical fields and the manifestation of electrical effects. 

What is static electric charge? 

Static electric charge refers to an imbalance of electric charges on an object that remains stationary. This imbalance occurs due to the transfer of electrons, resulting in an excess or deficit of charge and the subsequent attraction or repulsion of nearby objects. Static electricity is often experienced through phenomena like sparks, clingy clothes, or hair standing on end. 

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