Electromagnetics is arguably one of the most challenging courses in any electrical engineering curriculum. A solid foundation in vector calculus and a good intuition based on physical grounds are the normal requirements for a student to successfully complete this course. This paper presents a simple, yet powerful approach to introducing boundary-value problems arising in electrostatics. The principles of electrostatics find numerous applications such as electrostatic machines, lightning rods, gas purification, food purification, laser printers, and crop spraying, to name a few.

This paper focuses on the use of spreadsheets for solving electrostatic boundary-value problems. Sample problems that introduce the finite difference and the finite element methods are presented. The geometries included in the problems are sufficiently nontrivial for hand calculation or analytical solution, but reasonably manageable using spreadsheets. Although specialized software is available for this purpose, oftentimes such sophistication tends to obscure the mathematical underpinnings of the solution methods. Spreadsheets offer a transparent alternative − perhaps proximate to hand calculation − for students to better appreciate the numerical methods for solving boundary-value problems.

Laplace Equation Example 1.xlsx (58 kB)
Excel file