Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. The equations provide a mathematical model for electric, optical, and radio technologies, such as power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, lenses, radar etc. Maxwell's equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated by charges, currents, and changes of the fields. One important consequence of the equations is that they demonstrate how fluctuating electric and magnetic fields propagate at the speed of light. Known as electromagnetic radiation, these waves may occur at various wavelengths to produce a spectrum from radio waves to γ-rays. The equations are named after the physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who between 1861 and 1862 published an early form of the equations that included the Lorentz force law. He also first used the equations to propose that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon.
In mathematics, a partial differential equation (PDE) is a differential equation that contains beforehand unknown multivariable functions and their partial derivatives. PDEs are used to formulate problems involving functions of several variables, and are either solved by hand, or used to create a computer model. A special case is ordinary differential equations (ODEs), which deal with functions of a single variable and their derivatives.
In physics the Lorentz force is the combination of electric and magnetic force on a point charge due to electromagnetic fields. A particle of charge q moving with a velocity v in an electric field E and a magnetic field B experiences a force of
Classical electromagnetism or classical electrodynamics is a branch of theoretical physics that studies the interactions between electric charges and currents using an extension of the classical Newtonian model. The theory provides a description of electromagnetic phenomena whenever the relevant length scales and field strengths are large enough that quantum mechanical effects are negligible. For small distances and low field strengths, such interactions are better described by quantum electrodynamics.
The equations have two major variants. The microscopic Maxwell equations have universal applicability, but are unwieldy for common calculations. They relate the electric and magnetic fields to total charge and total current, including the complicated charges and currents in materials at the atomic scale. The "macroscopic" Maxwell equations define two new auxiliary fields that describe the large-scale behaviour of matter without having to consider atomic scale charges and quantum phenomena like spins. However, their use requires experimentally determined parameters for a phenomenological description of the electromagnetic response of materials.
The term "Maxwell's equations" is often also used for equivalent alternative formulations. Versions of Maxwell's equations based on the electric and magnetic potentials are preferred for explicitly solving the equations as a boundary value problem, analytical mechanics, or for use in quantum mechanics. The spacetime formulations (i.e., on spacetime rather than space and time separately), are commonly used in high energy and gravitational physics because they make the compatibility of the equations with special and general relativity manifest.^{ [note 1] } In fact, Einstein developed special and general relativity to accommodate the invariant speed of light that drops out of the Maxwell equations with the principle that only relative movement has physical consequences.
An electric potential is the amount of work needed to move a unit of positive charge from a reference point to a specific point inside the field without producing an acceleration. Typically, the reference point is the Earth or a point at infinity, although any point beyond the influence of the electric field charge can be used.
The term magnetic potential can be used for either of two quantities in classical electromagnetism: the magnetic vector potential, or simply vector potential, A; and the magnetic scalar potentialψ. Both quantities can be used in certain circumstances to calculate the magnetic field B.
In mathematics, in the field of differential equations, a boundary value problem is a differential equation together with a set of additional constraints, called the boundary conditions. A solution to a boundary value problem is a solution to the differential equation which also satisfies the boundary conditions.
Since the mid-20th century, it has been understood that Maxwell's equations are not exact, but a classical limit of the fundamental theory of quantum electrodynamics.
A classical field theory is a physical theory that predicts how one or more physical fields interact with matter through field equations. The term 'classical field theory' is commonly reserved for describing those physical theories that describe electromagnetism and gravitation, two of the fundamental forces of nature. Theories that incorporate quantum mechanics are called quantum field theories.
In particle physics, quantum electrodynamics (QED) is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved. QED mathematically describes all phenomena involving electrically charged particles interacting by means of exchange of photons and represents the quantum counterpart of classical electromagnetism giving a complete account of matter and light interaction.
Gauss's law describes the relationship between a static electric field and the electric charges that cause it: The static electric field points away from positive charges and towards negative charges, and the net outflow of the electric field through any closed surface is proportional to the charge enclosed by the surface. Picturing the electric field by its field lines, this means the field lines begin at positive electric charges and end at negative electric charges. 'Counting' the number of field lines passing through a closed surface yields the total charge (including bound charge due to polarization of material) enclosed by that surface, divided by dielectricity of free space (the vacuum permittivity).
In physics, Gauss's law, also known as Gauss's flux theorem, is a law relating the distribution of electric charge to the resulting electric field. The surface under consideration may be a closed one enclosing a volume such as a spherical surface.
An electric field surrounds an electric charge, and exerts force on other charges in the field, attracting or repelling them. Electric field is sometimes abbreviated as E-field. Mathematically the electric field is a vector field that associates to each point in space the force per unit of charge exerted on an infinitesimal positive test charge at rest at that point. The SI unit for electric field strength is volt per meter (V/m). Newtons per coulomb (N/C) is also used as a unit of electric field strengh. Electric fields are created by electric charges, or by time-varying magnetic fields. Electric fields are important in many areas of physics, and are exploited practically in electrical technology. On an atomic scale, the electric field is responsible for the attractive force between the atomic nucleus and electrons that holds atoms together, and the forces between atoms that cause chemical bonding. Electric fields and magnetic fields are both manifestations of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.
Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. There are two types of electric charges; positive and negative. Like charges repel and unlike attract. An object with an absence of net charge is referred to as neutral. Early knowledge of how charged substances interact is now called classical electrodynamics, and is still accurate for problems that do not require consideration of quantum effects.
Gauss's law for magnetism states that there are no "magnetic charges" (also called magnetic monopoles), analogous to electric charges.^{ [1] } Instead, the magnetic field due to materials is generated by a configuration called a dipole, and the net outflow of the magnetic field through any closed surface is zero. Magnetic dipoles are best represented as loops of current but resemble positive and negative 'magnetic charges', inseparably bound together, having no net 'magnetic charge'. In terms of field lines, this equation states that magnetic field lines neither begin nor end but make loops or extend to infinity and back. In other words, any magnetic field line that enters a given volume must somewhere exit that volume. Equivalent technical statements are that the sum total magnetic flux through any Gaussian surface is zero, or that the magnetic field is a solenoidal vector field.
In physics, Gauss's law for magnetism is one of the four Maxwell's equations that underlie classical electrodynamics. It states that the magnetic field B has divergence equal to zero, in other words, that it is a solenoidal vector field. It is equivalent to the statement that magnetic monopoles do not exist. Rather than "magnetic charges", the basic entity for magnetism is the magnetic dipole.
In particle physics, a magnetic monopole is a hypothetical elementary particle that is an isolated magnet with only one magnetic pole. A magnetic monopole would have a net "magnetic charge". Modern interest in the concept stems from particle theories, notably the grand unified and superstring theories, which predict their existence.
In electromagnetism, there are two kinds of dipoles:
The Maxwell–Faraday version of Faraday's law of induction describes how a time varying magnetic field creates ("induces") an electric field.^{ [1] } In integral form, it states that the work per unit charge required to move a charge around a closed loop equals the rate of decrease of the magnetic flux through the enclosed surface.
The dynamically induced electric field has closed field lines similar to a magnetic field, unless superposed by a static (charge induced) electric field. This aspect of electromagnetic induction is the operating principle behind many electric generators: for example, a rotating bar magnet creates a changing magnetic field, which in turn generates an electric field in a nearby wire.
Ampère's law with Maxwell's addition states that magnetic fields can be generated in two ways: by electric current (this was the original "Ampère's law") and by changing electric fields (this was "Maxwell's addition", which he called displacement current). In integral form, the magnetic field induced around any closed loop is proportional to the electric current plus displacement current (proportional to the rate of change of electric flux) through the enclosed surface.
Maxwell's addition to Ampère's law is particularly important: it makes the set of equations mathematically consistent for non static fields, without changing the laws of Ampere and Gauss for static fields.^{ [2] } However, as a consequence, it predicts that a changing magnetic field induces an electric field and vice versa.^{ [1] }^{ [3] } Therefore, these equations allow self-sustaining "electromagnetic waves" to travel through empty space (see electromagnetic wave equation).
The speed calculated for electromagnetic waves, which could be predicted from experiments on charges and currents,^{ [note 2] } exactly matches the speed of light; indeed, light is one form of electromagnetic radiation (as are X-rays, radio waves, and others). Maxwell understood the connection between electromagnetic waves and light in 1861, thereby unifying the theories of electromagnetism and optics.
In the electric and magnetic field formulation there are four equations that determine the fields for given charge and current distribution. A separate law of nature, the Lorentz force law, describes how, conversely, the electric and magnetic field act on charged particles and currents. A version of this law was included in the original equations by Maxwell but, by convention, is included no longer. The vector calculus formalism below, due to Oliver Heaviside,^{ [4] }^{ [5] } has become standard. It is manifestly rotation invariant, and therefore mathematically much more transparent than Maxwell's original 20 equations in x,y,z components. The relativistic formulations are even more symmetric and manifestly Lorentz invariant. For the same equations expressed using tensor calculus or differential forms, see alternative formulations.
The differential and integral equations formulations are mathematically equivalent and are both useful. The integral formulation relates fields within a region of space to fields on the boundary and can often be used to simplify and directly calculate fields from symmetric distributions of charges and currents. On the other hand, the differential equations are purely local and are a more natural starting point for calculating the fields in more complicated (less symmetric) situations, for example using finite element analysis.^{ [6] }
Symbols in bold represent vector quantities, and symbols in italics represent scalar quantities, unless otherwise indicated. The equations introduce the electric field, E, a vector field, and the magnetic field, B, a pseudovector field, each generally having a time and location dependence. The sources are
The universal constants appearing in the equations are
In the differential equations,
In the integral equations,
Here a fixed volume or surface means that it does not change over time. The equations are correct, complete, and a little easier to interpret with time-independent surfaces. For example, since the surface is time-independent, we can bring the differentiation under the integral sign in Faraday's law:
Maxwell's equations can be formulated with possibly time-dependent surfaces and volumes by using the differential version and using Gauss and Stokes formula appropriately.
Name | Integral equations | Differential equations |
---|---|---|
Gauss's law | ||
Gauss's law for magnetism | ||
Maxwell–Faraday equation (Faraday's law of induction) | ||
Ampère's circuital law (with Maxwell's addition) |
The definitions of charge, electric field, and magnetic field can be altered to simplify theoretical calculation, by absorbing dimensioned factors of ε_{0} and c into the units of calculation, by convention. With a corresponding change in convention for the Lorentz force law this yields the same physics, i.e. trajectories of charged particles, or work done by an electric motor. These definitions are often preferred in theoretical and high energy physics where it is natural to take the electric and magnetic field with the same units, to simplify the appearance of the electromagnetic tensor: the Lorentz covariant object unifying electric and magnetic field would then contain components with uniform unit and dimension.^{ [7] }^{:vii} Such modified definitions are conventionally used with the Gaussian (CGS) units. Using these definitions and conventions, colloquially "in Gaussian units",^{ [8] } the Maxwell equations become:^{ [9] }
Name | Integral equations | Differential equations |
---|---|---|
Gauss's law | ||
Gauss's law for magnetism | ||
Maxwell–Faraday equation (Faraday's law of induction) | ||
Ampère's circuital law (with Maxwell's addition) |
Note that the equations are particularly readable when length and time are measured in compatible units like seconds and lightseconds i.e. in units such that c = 1 unit of length/unit of time. Ever since 1983, metres and seconds are compatible except for historical legacy since by definition c = 299 792 458 m/s (≈ 1.0 feet/nanosecond).
Further cosmetic changes, called rationalisations, are possible by absorbing factors of 4π depending on whether we want Coulomb's law or Gauss's law to come out nicely, see Lorentz-Heaviside units (used mainly in particle physics). In theoretical physics it is often useful to choose units such that Planck's constant, the elementary charge, and even Newton's constant are 1. See Planck units.
The equivalence of the differential and integral formulations are a consequence of the Gauss divergence theorem and the Kelvin–Stokes theorem.
According to the (purely mathematical) Gauss divergence theorem, the electric flux through the boundary surface ∂Ω can be rewritten as
The integral version of Gauss's equation can thus be rewritten as
Since Ω is arbitrary (e.g. an arbitrary small ball with arbitrary center), this is satisfied iff the integrand is zero. This is the differential equations formulation of Gauss equation up to a trivial rearrangement.
Similarly rewriting the magnetic flux in Gauss's law for magnetism in integral form gives
which is satisfied for all Ω iff .
By the Kelvin–Stokes theorem we can rewrite the line integrals of the fields around the closed boundary curve ∂Σ to an integral of the "circulation of the fields" (i.e. their curls) over a surface it bounds, i.e.
Hence the modified Ampere law in integral form can be rewritten as
Since Σ can be chosen arbitrarily, e.g. as an arbitrary small, arbitrary oriented, and arbitrary centered disk, we conclude that the integrand is zero iff Ampere's modified law in differential equations form is satisfied. The equivalence of Faraday's law in differential and integral form follows likewise.
The line integrals and curls are analogous to quantities in classical fluid dynamics: the circulation of a fluid is the line integral of the fluid's flow velocity field around a closed loop, and the vorticity of the fluid is the curl of the velocity field.
The invariance of charge can be derived as a corollary of Maxwell's equations. The left-hand side of the modified Ampere's Law has zero divergence by the div–curl identity. Expanding the divergence of the right-hand side, interchanging derivatives, and applying Gauss's law gives:
i.e.
By the Gauss Divergence Theorem, this means the rate of change of charge in a fixed volume equals the net current flowing through the boundary:
In particular, in an isolated system the total charge is conserved.
In a region with no charges (ρ = 0) and no currents (J = 0), such as in a vacuum, Maxwell's equations reduce to:
Taking the curl (∇×) of the curl equations, and using the curl of the curl identity we obtain
The quantity has the dimension of (time/length)^{2}. Defining , the equations above have the form of the standard wave equations
Already during Maxwell's lifetime, it was found that the known values for and give , then already known to be the speed of light in free space. This led him to propose that light and radio waves were propagating electromagnetic waves, since amply confirmed. In the old SI system of units, the values of and are defined constants, (which means that by definition ) that define the ampere and the metre. In the new SI system, only c keeps its defined value, and the electron charge gets a defined value.
In materials with relative permittivity, ε_{r}, and relative permeability, μ_{r}, the phase velocity of light becomes
which is usually^{ [note 3] } less than c.
In addition, E and B are perpendicular to each other and to the direction of wave propagation, and are in phase with each other. A sinusoidal plane wave is one special solution of these equations. Maxwell's equations explain how these waves can physically propagate through space. The changing magnetic field creates a changing electric field through Faraday's law. In turn, that electric field creates a changing magnetic field through Maxwell's addition to Ampère's law. This perpetual cycle allows these waves, now known as electromagnetic radiation, to move through space at velocity c.
The above equations are the "microscopic" version of Maxwell's equations, expressing the electric and the magnetic fields in terms of the (possibly atomic-level) charges and currents present. This is sometimes called the "general" form, but the macroscopic version below is equally general, the difference being one of bookkeeping.
The microscopic version is sometimes called "Maxwell's equations in a vacuum": this refers to the fact that the material medium is not built into the structure of the equations, but appears only in the charge and current terms. The microscopic version was introduced by Lorentz, who tried to use it to derive the macroscopic properties of bulk matter from its microscopic constituents.^{ [10] }^{:5}
"Maxwell's macroscopic equations", also known as Maxwell's equations in matter, are more similar to those that Maxwell introduced himself.
Name | Integral equations (SI convention) | Differential equations (SI convention) | Differential equations (Gaussian convention) |
---|---|---|---|
Gauss's law | |||
Gauss's law for magnetism | |||
Maxwell–Faraday equation (Faraday's law of induction) | |||
Ampère's circuital law (with Maxwell's addition) | |||
In the "macroscopic" equations, the influence of bound charge Q_{b} and bound current I_{b} is incorporated into the displacement field D and the magnetizing field H, while the equations depend only on the free charges Q_{f} and free currents I_{f}. This reflects a splitting of the total electric charge Q and current I (and their densities ρ and J) into free and bound parts:
The cost of this splitting is that the additional fields D and H need to be determined through phenomenological constituent equations relating these fields to the electric field E and the magnetic field B, together with the bound charge and current.
See below for a detailed description of the differences between the microscopic equations, dealing with total charge and current including material contributions, useful in air/vacuum;^{ [note 4] } and the macroscopic equations, dealing with free charge and current, practical to use within materials.
When an electric field is applied to a dielectric material its molecules respond by forming microscopic electric dipoles – their atomic nuclei move a tiny distance in the direction of the field, while their electrons move a tiny distance in the opposite direction. This produces a macroscopicbound charge in the material even though all of the charges involved are bound to individual molecules. For example, if every molecule responds the same, similar to that shown in the figure, these tiny movements of charge combine to produce a layer of positive bound charge on one side of the material and a layer of negative charge on the other side. The bound charge is most conveniently described in terms of the polarization P of the material, its dipole moment per unit volume. If P is uniform, a macroscopic separation of charge is produced only at the surfaces where P enters and leaves the material. For non-uniform P, a charge is also produced in the bulk.^{ [11] }
Somewhat similarly, in all materials the constituent atoms exhibit magnetic moments that are intrinsically linked to the angular momentum of the components of the atoms, most notably their electrons. The connection to angular momentum suggests the picture of an assembly of microscopic current loops. Outside the material, an assembly of such microscopic current loops is not different from a macroscopic current circulating around the material's surface, despite the fact that no individual charge is traveling a large distance. These bound currents can be described using the magnetization M.^{ [12] }
The very complicated and granular bound charges and bound currents, therefore, can be represented on the macroscopic scale in terms of P and M, which average these charges and currents on a sufficiently large scale so as not to see the granularity of individual atoms, but also sufficiently small that they vary with location in the material. As such, Maxwell's macroscopic equations ignore many details on a fine scale that can be unimportant to understanding matters on a gross scale by calculating fields that are averaged over some suitable volume.
The definitions (not constitutive relations) of the auxiliary fields are:
where P is the polarization field and M is the magnetization field, which are defined in terms of microscopic bound charges and bound currents respectively. The macroscopic bound charge density ρ_{b} and bound current density J_{b} in terms of polarization P and magnetization M are then defined as
If we define the total, bound, and free charge and current density by
and use the defining relations above to eliminate D, and H, the "macroscopic" Maxwell's equations reproduce the "microscopic" equations.
In order to apply 'Maxwell's macroscopic equations', it is necessary to specify the relations between displacement field D and the electric field E, as well as the magnetizing field H and the magnetic field B. Equivalently, we have to specify the dependence of the polarization P (hence the bound charge) and the magnetization M (hence the bound current) on the applied electric and magnetic field. The equations specifying this response are called constitutive relations. For real-world materials, the constitutive relations are rarely simple, except approximately, and usually determined by experiment. See the main article on constitutive relations for a fuller description.^{ [13] }^{:44–45}
For materials without polarization and magnetization, the constitutive relations are (by definition)^{ [7] }^{:2}
where ε_{0} is the permittivity of free space and μ_{0} the permeability of free space. Since there is no bound charge, the total and the free charge and current are equal.
An alternative viewpoint on the microscopic equations is that they are the macroscopic equations together with the statement that vacuum behaves like a perfect linear "material" without additional polarization and magnetization. More generally, for linear materials the constitutive relations are^{ [13] }^{:44–45}
where ε is the permittivity and μ the permeability of the material. For the displacement field D the linear approximation is usually excellent because for all but the most extreme electric fields or temperatures obtainable in the laboratory (high power pulsed lasers) the interatomic electric fields of materials of the order of 10^{11} V/m are much higher than the external field. For the magnetizing field , however, the linear approximation can break down in common materials like iron leading to phenomena like hysteresis. Even the linear case can have various complications, however.
Even more generally, in the case of non-linear materials (see for example nonlinear optics), D and P are not necessarily proportional to E, similarly H or M is not necessarily proportional to B. In general D and H depend on both E and B, on location and time, and possibly other physical quantities.
In applications one also has to describe how the free currents and charge density behave in terms of E and B possibly coupled to other physical quantities like pressure, and the mass, number density, and velocity of charge-carrying particles. E.g., the original equations given by Maxwell (see History of Maxwell's equations) included Ohms law in the form
Following is a summary of some of the numerous other mathematical formalisms to write the microscopic Maxwell's equations, with the columns separating the two homogeneous Maxwell equations from the two inhomogeneous ones involving charge and current. Each formulation has versions directly in terms of the electric and magnetic fields, and indirectly in terms of the electrical potential φ and the vector potential A. Potentials were introduced as a convenient way to solve the homogeneous equations, but it was thought that all observable physics was contained in the electric and magnetic fields (or relativistically, the Faraday tensor). The potentials play a central role in quantum mechanics, however, and act quantum mechanically with observable consequences even when the electric and magnetic fields vanish (Aharonov–Bohm effect).
Each table describes one formalism. See the main article for details of each formulation. SI units are used throughout.
Formulation | Homogeneous equations | Inhomogeneous equations |
---|---|---|
Fields 3D Euclidean space + time | ||
Potentials (any gauge) 3D Euclidean space + time | ||
Potentials (Lorenz gauge) 3D Euclidean space + time |
Formulation | Homogeneous equations | Inhomogeneous equations |
---|---|---|
Fields space + time spatial metric independent of time | ||
Potentials space (with topological restrictions) + time spatial metric independent of time | ||
Potentials (Lorenz gauge) space (with topological restrictions) + time spatial metric independent of time |
Formulation | Homogeneous equations | Inhomogeneous equations |
---|---|---|
Fields Any space + time | ||
Potentials (any gauge) Any space (with topological restrictions) + time | ||
Potential (Lorenz Gauge) Any space (with topological restrictions) + time spatial metric independent of time | ||
The Maxwell equations can also be formulated on a spacetime-like Minkowski space where space and time are treated on equal footing. The direct spacetime formulations make manifest that the Maxwell equations are relativistically invariant. Because of this symmetry electric and magnetic field are treated on equal footing and are recognised as components of the Faraday tensor. This reduces the four Maxwell equations to two, which simplifies the equations, although we can no longer use the familiar vector formulation. In fact the Maxwell equations in the space + time formulation are not Galileo invariant and have Lorentz invariance as a hidden symmetry. This was a major source of inspiration for the development of relativity theory. To repeat: the space + time formulation is not a non-relativistic approximation and it describes the same physics by simply renaming variables. For this reason the relativistic invariant equations are usually called the Maxwell equations as well.
Each table describes one formalism.
Formulation | Homogeneous equations | Inhomogeneous equations |
---|---|---|
Fields | ||
Potentials (any gauge) | ||
Potentials (Lorenz gauge) | ||
Fields Any spacetime | ||
Potentials (any gauge) Any spacetime (with topological restrictions) | ||
Potentials (Lorenz gauge) Any spacetime (with topological restrictions) |
Formulation | Homogeneous equations | Inhomogeneous equations |
---|---|---|
Fields Any spacetime | ||
Potentials (any gauge) Any spacetime (with topological restrictions) | ||
Potentials (Lorenz gauge) Any spacetime (with topological restrictions) | ||
Other formalisms include the geometric algebra formulation and a matrix representation of Maxwell's equations. Historically, a quaternionic formulation^{ [15] }^{ [16] } was used.
Maxwell's equations are partial differential equations that relate the electric and magnetic fields to each other and to the electric charges and currents. Often, the charges and currents are themselves dependent on the electric and magnetic fields via the Lorentz force equation and the constitutive relations. These all form a set of coupled partial differential equations which are often very difficult to solve: the solutions encompass all the diverse phenomena of classical electromagnetism. Some general remarks follow.
As for any differential equation, boundary conditions ^{ [17] }^{ [18] }^{ [19] } and initial conditions ^{ [20] } are necessary for a unique solution. For example, even with no charges and no currents anywhere in spacetime, there are the obvious solutions for which E and B are zero or constant, but there are also non-trivial solutions corresponding to electromagnetic waves. In some cases, Maxwell's equations are solved over the whole of space, and boundary conditions are given as asymptotic limits at infinity.^{ [21] } In other cases, Maxwell's equations are solved in a finite region of space, with appropriate conditions on the boundary of that region, for example an artificial absorbing boundary representing the rest of the universe,^{ [22] }^{ [23] } or periodic boundary conditions, or walls that isolate a small region from the outside world (as with a waveguide or cavity resonator).^{ [24] }
Jefimenko's equations (or the closely related Liénard–Wiechert potentials) are the explicit solution to Maxwell's equations for the electric and magnetic fields created by any given distribution of charges and currents. It assumes specific initial conditions to obtain the so-called "retarded solution", where the only fields present are the ones created by the charges. However, Jefimenko's equations are unhelpful in situations when the charges and currents are themselves affected by the fields they create.
Numerical methods for differential equations can be used to compute approximate solutions of Maxwell's equations when exact solutions are impossible. These include the finite element method and finite-difference time-domain method.^{ [17] }^{ [19] }^{ [25] }^{ [26] }^{ [27] } For more details, see Computational electromagnetics.
Maxwell's equations seem overdetermined, in that they involve six unknowns (the three components of E and B) but eight equations (one for each of the two Gauss's laws, three vector components each for Faraday's and Ampere's laws). (The currents and charges are not unknowns, being freely specifiable subject to charge conservation.) This is related to a certain limited kind of redundancy in Maxwell's equations: It can be proven that any system satisfying Faraday's law and Ampere's law automatically also satisfies the two Gauss's laws, as long as the system's initial condition does.^{ [28] }^{ [29] } This explanation was first introduced by Julius Adams Stratton in 1941.^{ [30] } Although it is possible to simply ignore the two Gauss's laws in a numerical algorithm (apart from the initial conditions), the imperfect precision of the calculations can lead to ever-increasing violations of those laws. By introducing dummy variables characterizing these violations, the four equations become not overdetermined after all. The resulting formulation can lead to more accurate algorithms that take all four laws into account.^{ [31] }
Both identities , which reduce eight equations to six independent ones, are the true reason of overdetermination.^{ [32] }^{ [33] }^{ [34] }
Maxwell's equations and the Lorentz force law (along with the rest of classical electromagnetism) are extraordinarily successful at explaining and predicting a variety of phenomena; however they are not exact, but a classical limit of quantum electrodynamics (QED).
Some observed electromagnetic phenomena are incompatible with Maxwell's equations. These include photon–photon scattering and many other phenomena related to photons or virtual photons, "nonclassical light" and quantum entanglement of electromagnetic fields (see quantum optics). E.g. quantum cryptography cannot be described by Maxwell theory, not even approximately. The approximate nature of Maxwell's equations becomes more and more apparent when going into the extremely strong field regime (see Euler–Heisenberg Lagrangian) or to extremely small distances.
Finally, Maxwell's equations cannot explain any phenomenon involving individual photons interacting with quantum matter, such as the photoelectric effect, Planck's law, the Duane–Hunt law, and single-photon light detectors. However, many such phenomena may be approximated using a halfway theory of quantum matter coupled to a classical electromagnetic field, either as external field or with the expected value of the charge current and density on the right hand side of Maxwell's equations.
Popular variations on the Maxwell equations as a classical theory of electromagnetic fields are relatively scarce because the standard equations have stood the test of time remarkably well.
Maxwell's equations posit that there is electric charge, but no magnetic charge (also called magnetic monopoles), in the universe. Indeed, magnetic charge has never been observed (despite extensive searches)^{ [note 5] } and may not exist. If they did exist, both Gauss's law for magnetism and Faraday's law would need to be modified, and the resulting four equations would be fully symmetric under the interchange of electric and magnetic fields.^{ [7] }^{:273–275}
In physics, the Poynting vector represents the directional energy flux of an electromagnetic field. The SI unit of the Poynting vector is the watt per square metre (W/m^{2}). It is named after its discoverer John Henry Poynting who first derived it in 1884. Oliver Heaviside also discovered it independently.
In classical electromagnetism, Ampère's circuital law relates the integrated magnetic field around a closed loop to the electric current passing through the loop. James Clerk Maxwell derived it using hydrodynamics in his 1861 paper "On Physical Lines of Force" and it is now one of the Maxwell equations, which form the basis of classical electromagnetism.
In electromagnetism, displacement current density is the quantity ∂D/∂t appearing in Maxwell's equations that is defined in terms of the rate of change of D, the electric displacement field. Displacement current density has the same units as electric current density, and it is a source of the magnetic field just as actual current is. However it is not an electric current of moving charges, but a time-varying electric field. In physical materials, there is also a contribution from the slight motion of charges bound in atoms, called dielectric polarization.
"A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" is a paper by James Clerk Maxwell on electromagnetism, published in 1865. In the paper, Maxwell derives an electromagnetic wave equation with a velocity for light in close agreement with measurements made by experiment, and deduces that light is an electromagnetic wave.
In electrodynamics, Poynting's theorem is a statement of conservation of energy for the electromagnetic field, in the form of a partial differential equation, due to the British physicist John Henry Poynting. Poynting's theorem is analogous to the work-energy theorem in classical mechanics, and mathematically similar to the continuity equation, because it relates the energy stored in the electromagnetic field to the work done on a charge distribution, through energy flux.
In physics, the electric displacement field, denoted by D, is a vector field that appears in Maxwell's equations. It accounts for the effects of free and bound charge within materials. "D" stands for "displacement", as in the related concept of displacement current in dielectrics. In free space, the electric displacement field is equivalent to flux density, a concept that lends understanding to Gauss's law. In the International System of Units (SI), it is expressed in units of coulomb per meter squared (C⋅m^{−2}).
In electromagnetism, the Lorenz gauge condition or Lorenz gauge is a partial gauge fixing of the electromagnetic vector potential. The condition is that This does not completely determine the gauge: one can still make a gauge transformation where is a harmonic scalar function.
The electric-field integral equation is a relationship that allows the calculation of an electric field (E) generated by an electric current distribution (J).
In classical electromagnetism, magnetization or magnetic polarization is the vector field that expresses the density of permanent or induced magnetic dipole moments in a magnetic material. The origin of the magnetic moments responsible for magnetization can be either microscopic electric currents resulting from the motion of electrons in atoms, or the spin of the electrons or the nuclei. Net magnetization results from the response of a material to an external magnetic field, together with any unbalanced magnetic dipole moments that may be inherent in the material itself; for example, in ferromagnets. Magnetization is not always uniform within a body, but rather varies between different points. Magnetization also describes how a material responds to an applied magnetic field as well as the way the material changes the magnetic field, and can be used to calculate the forces that result from those interactions. It can be compared to electric polarization, which is the measure of the corresponding response of a material to an electric field in electrostatics. Physicists and engineers usually define magnetization as the quantity of magnetic moment per unit volume. It is represented by a pseudovector M.
The electromagnetic wave equation is a second-order partial differential equation that describes the propagation of electromagnetic waves through a medium or in a vacuum. It is a three-dimensional form of the wave equation. The homogeneous form of the equation, written in terms of either the electric field E or the magnetic field B, takes the form:
The Maxwell stress tensor is a symmetric second-order tensor used in classical electromagnetism to represent the interaction between electromagnetic forces and mechanical momentum. In simple situations, such as a point charge moving freely in a homogeneous magnetic field, it is easy to calculate the forces on the charge from the Lorentz force law. When the situation becomes more complicated, this ordinary procedure can become impossibly difficult, with equations spanning multiple lines. It is therefore convenient to collect many of these terms in the Maxwell stress tensor, and to use tensor arithmetic to find the answer to the problem at hand.
In electromagnetism, Jefimenko's equations give the electric field and magnetic field due to a distribution of electric charges and electric current in space, that takes into account the propagation delay of the fields due to the finite speed of light and relativistic effects. Therefore they can be used for moving charges and currents. They are the general solutions to Maxwell's equations for any arbitrary distribution of charges and currents.
Lorentz–Heaviside units constitute a system of units within CGS, named for Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Oliver Heaviside. They share with CGS-Gaussian units the property that the electric constant ε_{0} and magnetic constant µ_{0} do not appear, having been incorporated implicitly into the unit system and electromagnetic equations. Lorentz–Heaviside units may be regarded as normalizing ε_{0} = 1 and µ_{0} = 1, while at the same time revising Maxwell's equations to use the speed of light c instead.
The covariant formulation of classical electromagnetism refers to ways of writing the laws of classical electromagnetism in a form that is manifestly invariant under Lorentz transformations, in the formalism of special relativity using rectilinear inertial coordinate systems. These expressions both make it simple to prove that the laws of classical electromagnetism take the same form in any inertial coordinate system, and also provide a way to translate the fields and forces from one frame to another. However, this is not as general as Maxwell's equations in curved spacetime or non-rectilinear coordinate systems.
In electromagnetism and applications, an inhomogeneous electromagnetic wave equation, or nonhomogeneous electromagnetic wave equation, is one of a set of wave equations describing the propagation of electromagnetic waves generated by nonzero source charges and currents. The source terms in the wave equations makes the partial differential equations inhomogeneous, if the source terms are zero the equations reduce to the homogeneous electromagnetic wave equations. The equations follow from Maxwell's equations.
There are various mathematical descriptions of the electromagnetic field that are used in the study of electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental interactions of nature. In this article, several approaches are discussed, although the equations are in terms of electric and magnetic fields, potentials, and charges with currents, generally speaking.
In electrodynamics, the retarded potentials are the electromagnetic potentials for the electromagnetic field generated by time-varying electric current or charge distributions in the past. The fields propagate at the speed of light c, so the delay of the fields connecting cause and effect at earlier and later times is an important factor: the signal takes a finite time to propagate from a point in the charge or current distribution to another point in space, see figure below.
Lagrangian field theory is a formalism in classical field theory. It is the field-theoretic analogue of Lagrangian mechanics. Lagrangian mechanics is used for discrete particles each with a finite number of degrees of freedom. Lagrangian field theory applies to continua and fields, which have an infinite number of degrees of freedom.
The developments before relativity: