The charge-spot technique for modeling the static electric forces acting between charged fine particles entails treating electric charges on individual particles as small sets of discrete point charges, located near their surfaces. This is in contrast to existing models, which assume a single charge per particle. The charge-spot technique more accurately describes the forces, torques, and moments that act on triboelectrically charged particles, especially image-charge forces acting near conducting surfaces.

The discrete element method (DEM) simulation uses a truncation range to limit the number of near-neighbor charge spots via a shifted and truncated potential Coulomb interaction. The model can be readily adapted to account for induced dipoles in uncharged particles (and thus dielectrophoretic forces) by allowing two charge spots of opposite signs to be “created” in response to an external electric field. To account for virtual overlap during contacts, the model can be set to automatically scale down the effective charge in proportion to the amount of virtual overlap of the charge spots. This can be accomplished by mimicking the behavior of two real overlapping spherical charge clouds, or with other approximate forms.

The charge-spot method much more closely resembles real non-uniform surface charge distributions that result from tri-bocharging than simpler approaches, which just assign a single total charge to a particle. With the charge-spot model, a single particle may have a zero net charge, but still have both positive and negative charge spots, which could produce substantial forces on the particle when it is close to other charges, when it is in an external electric field, or when near a conducting surface. Since the charge-spot model can contain any number of charges per particle, can be used with only one or two charge spots per particle for simulating charging from solar wind bombardment, or with several charge spots for simulating triboelectric charging. Adhesive image-charge forces acting on charged particles touching conducting surfaces can be up to 50 times stronger if the charge is located in discrete spots on the particle surface instead of being distributed uniformly over the surface of the particle, as is assumed by most other models.

Besides being useful in modeling particulates in space and distant objects, this modeling technique is useful for electrophotography (used in copiers) and in simulating the effects of static charge in the pulmonary delivery of fine dry powders.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18403-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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