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Neat Mechanical Analogs to E&M


walsh416

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I just skimmed blog post, and it got me thinking: what are some different ways to think about electrostatics and magnetism? I always function better when I can picture things as basic, mechanical physics concepts. I make it a point to always try to draw connections between more advanced concepts in physics (say, anything and everything covered in E&M) and more simplistic concepts (you know, water and force of gravity and junk like that). Until finding a Wikipedia article on the hydraulic analogy, I had no idea that this was a common thing to do!

Essentially, voltage is the difference in pressure between two points within a pipe, and current is the amount of water that flows past a point within a given time. Beyond that, electric potential is the pressure at one point within a pipe, electric charge is simply a quantity of water, and resistance is a temporary narrowing of a pipe to restrict flow.

Beyond this hydraulic analogy, it's easy to draw comparisons between electric fields/magnetism and gravity. Yes, electric forces are much stronger, but they work in similar ways. They're both attractive forces that can never be seen; they are observed through their effects on other bodies.

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I once read a book called "How Things Work", which featured analogies like this alongside a plentiful heaping of cartoon mammoths (mammi?).  It was actually quite informative on things like this, though not overly technical.

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