Topic

1864

Maxwell’s equations

The book of science

Tom Sharp

James Clerk Maxwell electromagnetism

Maxwell’s equations

Fields

James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell was the first to realize how electricity, magnetism, and light are manifestations of the same physical forces—electromagnetic radiation—described as photons or waves with different energies, wavelength, and frequencies. As Einstein wrote, Maxwell realized “that electromagnetic fields spread in the form of polarised waves, and at the speed of light!” Maxwell wrote that “light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.”

Electric charges and currents create electric and magnetic fields (physical lines of force) that can be described mathematically. Maxwell’s equations describe and improve work by Carl Friedrich Gauss, Micael Faraday, and André-Marie Ampère, that is, Gauss’s law, Gauss’s law for magnetism, Faraday’s law of induction, and Ampère’s circuital law.

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