What Is Electrical Force?

Brad Higham/CC-BY 2.0

An electric force is an attractive or repulsive force between two charged objects. Electric forces are attractive when two objects have opposite charges and repulsive when two objects have like charges. Electric forces are different from magnetic forces, although the two are strongly related.

Static electric forces are relatively easy to observe in action. For instance, conventional foam or packing peanuts tend to stick to hands and other objects. This is due to a charge in the surface of the peanut, which is attracted to the opposite charges in hands or other objects. Similarly, removing a wool hat can cause hair to stand on end. As the hat rubs the hair, it picks up an electrical charge; this also leaves each hair with a charge. Because the hairs have like charges, they try to move away from one another, and stand on end.

Electric forces and magnetic forces are both products of electric charges, but while electric forces can be from static or moving charges, magnetic forces only arise when a charged object is in motion. Permanent magnets are possible in certain metals because of the motions of electrons around the atoms that compose them. Electric charges are caused by the presence or absence of electrons and so moving electrons around an atom actually produce a small magnetic field.