Electric Fields on Uneven Surfaces
So far we have considered excess charges on a smooth, symmetrical conductor surface. What happens if a conductor has sharp corners or is pointed? Excess charges on a nonuniform conductor become concentrated at the sharpest points. Additionally, excess charge may move on or off the conductor at the sharpest points.
To see how and why this happens, consider the charged conductor in this figure. The electrostatic repulsion of like charges is most effective in moving them apart on the flattest surface, and so they become least concentrated there. This is because the forces between identical pairs of charges at either end of the conductor are identical, but the components of the forces parallel to the surfaces are different. The component parallel to the surface is greatest on the flattest surface and, hence, more effective in moving the charge.
The same effect is produced on a conductor by an externally applied electric field, as seen in figure (c). Since the field lines must be perpendicular to the surface, more of them are concentrated on the most curved parts.