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Clearly developed from first principles, this introductory study supplies basic material on electrostatics and magnetostatics, then concentrates on electromagnetic theory — the authors are both leading men in the field. The book ranges freely over many areas of electromagnetic theory with some concern for electrical engineering. It covers the field theory of electromagnetism, electrostatics and the equations and theorems of Gauss, Poisson, Laplace and Green, solutions of Laplace's equation, dielectrics, magnetic fields of linear and circular currents, electromagnetic induction and Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves, electron theory, wave guides and cavity resonators, spherical electromagnetic waves, Huygen's principle and Green's theorem, and Fresnel and Fraunhofer diffraction. Practice problems are supplied at chapter ends.
Physicists and engineers will find this presentation particularly useful; but mathematicians have also used the book not only as an introduction to electromagnetism, but also as a means to an increased knowledge of the aims and tools of theoretical physics. The only background required to follow the development is a knowledge of the calculus and differential equations. More advanced mathematics is developed in appendixes.
THE FIELD THEORY OF ELECTROMAGNETISM
A dynamical problem has two aspects: mechanics, the determination of the accelerations and hence of the motions, once the forces are given; and the study of the forces acting under the existing circumstances. The basic principles of mechanics are simple. In its classical form, mechanics is based on Newton's laws of motion, laws discovered and formulated nearly three hundred years ago. The developments since then have been technical, mathematical improvements in the way of formulating the laws and solving the resulting mathematical problems, rather than additions to our fundamental knowledge of mechanics. Only in the present century, with wave mechanics, has there been a change in the underlying structure of the subject.
The study of forces, on the other hand, is difficult and complex. The first forces brought into mathematical formulation were gravitational forces, as seen in planetary motion. Next were elastic forces. Then followed electric and magnetic forces, which are the subject of this volume. Their study was mostly a product of the nineteenth century. During the present century, it has become clear that electromagnetic forces are of far wider application than was first supposed. It has become evident that, instead of being active only in electrostatic and magnetostatic experiments, and in electromagnetic applications such as the telegraph, dynamo, and radio, the forces between the nuclei and electrons of single atoms, the chemical forces between atoms and molecules, the forces of cohesion and elasticity holding solids together, are all of an electric nature. We might be tempted to generalize and suppose that all forces are electromagnetic, but this appears to be carrying things too far. The prevailing evidence at present indicates that the intranuclear forces, holding together the various fundamental particles of which the nucleus is composed, are not of electromagnetic origin. These forces, of enormous magnitude, and appearing in the phenomena of radioactivity and of nuclear fission, appear subject to laws somewhat analogous to the electromagnetic laws, but fundamentally different. In spite of this, the range of phenomena governed by electromagnetic theory is very wide, and it carries us rather far into the structure of matter, of electrons and nuclei and atoms and molecules, if we wish to understand it completely. The equations underlying the theory, Maxwell's equations, are relatively simple, but not nearly so simple as Newton's laws of motion. Instead of stating the whole fundamental formulation of the subject in the first chapter, as one can when dealing with mechanics, about half of the present book is taken up with a complete formulation of Maxwell's equations. We start with simple types of force, electrostatic and magnetostatic, and gradually work up to problems of electromagnetic induction and related subjects, all of which are formulated in Maxwell's equations.
In the development of electromagnetic theory, there has been a continual and significant trend, which in a way has set the pattern for the development of all of theoretical physics. This has been the trend away from the concept known as "action at a distance" toward the concept of field theory. The classical example of action at a distance is gravitation, in which simple nonrelativistic theory states that any two particles in the universe exert a gravitational force on each other, acting along the line joining them, proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Such a force, depending only on the positions of the particles, quite independent of any intervening objects, is simple to think about, and formed the basis of most of physical thought from the time of Newton, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, on well into the nineteenth century. The first electric and magnetic laws to be discovered fitted in well with the pattern. First among these was Coulomb's law. Coulomb investigated the forces between electrically charged objects, and found that the force between two such objects was in the line joining them, proportional to the product of their charges (which could be defined by an experiment based on this observation), and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, in striking analogy to the law of gravitation. Magnets similarly fell in with the scheme. A theory of the forces between permanent magnets can be built up by considering that they contain magnetic north and south poles, and that the force between two poles is proportional to the product of the pole strengths, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance. It is true that single poles do not seem to exist in nature, but an ordinary magnet can be considered as made up of equal north and south poles in juxtaposition, a combination known as a "dipole."
Coulomb's studies were carried on in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Early in the nineteenth came the discovery of the magnetic effects of continuous currents. First was Oersted's observation that electric current flowing in a loop of wire exerted magnetic forces on permanent magnets, just as if the loop itself were a magnet. Then came Ampere to formulate these observations mathematically, showing that the magnetic force resulting from a circuit can be broken up into contributions from infinitesimal lengths of wire in the circuit, and that each of these forces falls off as the inverse square of the distance, a law often known by the names of Biot and Savart. These laws of action at a distance suggested that electromagnetism would develop along the lines suggested by gravitational theory.
Michael Faraday, in the first half of the nineteenth century, was the first who really turned the electromagnetic theory into the lines of field theory. If a piece of insulator, or dielectric, is put between two charged objects, the force between the objects is diminished. Faraday was not content to regard this as merely a shielding effect, or a change in the force constant. He directed attention to the dielectric, and concluded that it became polarized, acquired charges which themselves contributed to the force on other charges. To describe these effects, he introduced the idea of lines of force, lines pointing in the direction of the force that would be exerted on a charge located at an arbitrary point of space. He gave a physical meaning to the number of lines per unit area, setting this quantity proportional to the magnitude of the force. He thought of the lines of force in a very concrete way, as if there were a tension exerted along them, and a pressure at right angles to them, and showed that such a stress system would account for the forces actually exerted on charges. Faraday's fundamental idea, in other words, was that things of the greatest importance were going on in the apparently empty space between charged bodies, and that electromagnetism could be described by giving the laws of the phenomena in this space, which he called the "field." His discovery of electromagnetic induction, in which electromotive force is induced in a circuit by the time rate of change of magnetic flux through the circuit, added certainty to his concepts, by pointing out the importance of the magnetic field and its flux.
Faraday was not a mathematician, and his concepts of the field did not immediately appeal to the mathematicians, who were still thinking in terms of inverse-square laws. His contemporary Gauss furnished the first mathematical formulation of field theory. Gauss considered lines of force, their flux out of a region, and proved his famous theorem, relating this flux to the total charge within the region. It remained for Maxwell, however, some thirty years after Faraday's first discoveries, to find the real mathematical formulation of them. Maxwell accepted wholeheartedly the idea that the electric and magnetic fields were the fundamental entities, and considered the partial differential equations governing those fields. He had a background of experience to work on. In addition to the work of Gauss, there was the formulation of gravitational theory in terms of the gravitational field and potential, which had been worked out at the end of the eighteenth century by Laplace, Poisson, and others. At the time, that formulation seemed more a mathematical device than anything else, but in the hands of Maxwell it furnished an ideal mathematical framework for Faraday's ideas. The electromagnetic field is much more complicated than the gravitational, however, and Maxwell had to go far beyond Laplace, Poisson, and Gauss, introducing among other things the concept of displacement current, which proved to be necessary to reach a mathematically consistent theory. Maxwell's equations have stood the test of time since then, and still furnish the correct formulation of classical electromagnetic theory; it is only the quantum theory which has brought about a fundamental revision of our ideas, during the last few years.
As soon as Maxwell formulated his equations, he was able to draw from them a mathematical result predicting a new phenomenon, which would hardly be suspected from the laws of Coulomb and of Faraday which were his starting points. He was able to show that an electromagnetic disturbance originated by one charged body would not be immediately observed by another, but that instead it would travel out as a wave, with a speed that could be predicted from electrical and magnetic measurements. Furthermore, the velocity so predicted proved to agree, within the small experimental error, with the speed of light. Thus at one blow he accomplished two results of the greatest importance in the history of physics. First, he gave a convincing proof of the superiority of a field theory to action at a distance; secondly, he tied together two great branches of physics, electromagnetism and optics.
To see why action at a distance can hardly explain the propagation of electromagnetic waves, consider as simple a thing as a radio broadcast. In the transmitting antenna, certain charges oscillate back and forth, depending on the signal being transmitted. According to the field theory, these charges produce an electromagnetic wave, which travels out with the speed of light. The wave reaches a receiving antenna an appreciable time later, and sets the charges in that antenna into oscillation, with results that can be detected in the receiver. The forces on the charges in the receiving antenna are not determined at all by the instantaneous positions or velocities of the charges in the transmitting antenna, but by the values that they had at an earlier time. Any reaction back on the transmitter will be delayed by the time taken by the disturbance to reach the receiver, and then to return to the transmitter again, as in an echo. The forces on a particle, in other words, do not depend on the positions of other charges, but on what they did at past times. It is almost impossible to formulate this in terms of action at a distance, but easy to formulate if we regard the electromagnetic field as a real entity, taking energy from the transmitter, and carrying it with a finite velocity to the receiver.
To appreciate the relations between electromagnetism and optics, which Maxwell demonstrated, we have to go back somewhat further with the development of optics. At the time of Newton and Huygens, there were two opposed theories of light, Newton holding a corpuscular theory, in which the light was a stream of infinitesimal particles, being bent as they passed from one medium to another on account of a surface force resulting from different potential energies in the various media; whereas Huygens believed that light was a form of wave motion, and was able to explain reflection and refraction on the basis of the propagation of spherical wavelets, traveling with different velocities in different media. Newton's principal objection to the wave theory was his feeling that it did not explain the way in which obstacles cast sharp shadows. He was thinking by analogy with sound, which was known to be a wave motion, in which sound bends around obstacles. The thing he did not realize was that the wave lengths of light are so small, and that that entirely changes the behavior of shadow formation. It is curious that he did not think of this, for he was familiar with the phenomena of interference and diffraction; he made a theory of them which postulated a periodic disturbance along the direction of wave propagation, which he described as alternate fits of easy reflection and of easy transmission, and by measurement of interference patterns he determined the wave length of this periodic disturbance, in good agreement with modern measurements of the wave length of light. His combination of corpuscles with a periodic disturbance, in fact, showed extraordinary similarity to the present picture resulting from the quantum theory, in which we picture particles, or photons, traveling in accordance with a guiding wave field.
The explanation of interference and diffraction from the wave theory, together with the proper treatment of the casting of shadows, did not actually come until the first years of the nineteenth century, when Young and Fresnel made their discoveries in that field. Fresnel not only explained these phenomena, but also formulated the laws of reflection and refraction, giving laws, which have proved to be correct, for the fraction of the incident light reflected and refracted, as well as for the direction of the reflected and refracted beams. Those laws also explained the phenomenon of double refraction, by which certain crystals such as Iceland spar transmit light in two different rays, the ordinary and the extraordinary rays, traveling at different angles and speeds, and not satisfying the ordinary laws of refraction as found in an isotropic medium. The two rays show properties described as polarization, which proved to result from the fact that light is a transverse, not a longitudinal, vibration, so that two directions of vibration are possible, both at right angles to the direction of propagation. The whole theory of these vibrations shows a close analogy to the transmission of transverse elastic vibrations in an elastic solid, with the one exception that there is no indication of an accompanying longitudinal vibration, such as there would be with an elastic solid, and such as would constitute the only mode of vibration for a fluid.
The physicists of the nineteenth century were much devoted to mechanical models. If light acted like the transverse vibration of an elastic solid, they tried to visualize it as a real solid, and gave it a name, the "ether." It was hard to understand its properties. In the first place, as we have just mentioned, a real elastic solid would transmit longitudinal as well as transverse waves, and no good way of modifying the theory was found that would eliminate the longitudinal waves. In the second place, the solid would have to fill all space, and it was obviously very hard to see how, with a very rigid solid filling space, it was possible for ordinary bodies to move around freely. Much thought was devoted to these questions. Even after Maxwell had shown that light was an electromagnetic disturbance, not a vibration of a solid, there was still much speculation about the nature of the ether. It is really only within the present century that physicists have realized that that speculation is essentially meaningless, that the electric and magnetic fields are the fundamental entities concerned with optics as well as with electromagnetic forces, and that we do not have to endow these fields with mechanical properties foreign to their real nature.
It was this background of an elastic-solid theory of light which Maxwell encountered when he formulated his electromagnetic theory. That theory at once removed all the difficulties of the previous theories. It yielded only the transverse vibrations, having no solutions of the fundamental equations corresponding to longitudinal waves. Fresnel's equations for refraction and reflection, and his explanations of interference and diffraction, though proposed for an elastic-solid theory, proved to be equally valid in the framework of electromagnetic theory. And the explanation of the casting of shadows, resulting from the small wave length shown to exist by experiments on interference and diffraction, properly answered Newton's objection to the wave theory. Taken together with the remarkable success of the theory in predicting the velocity of light from purely electrical measurements, all doubt about the electromagnetic nature of light almost immediately disappeared, and optics is now treated as a branch of electromagnetism, as we shall treat it in this volume. The argument was placed beyond question a few years later, when Hertz demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves of wave lengths of a few centimeters. This was soon followed by the use of much longer electromagnetic waves for radio communication, leading back in the last few years to the use of microwaves, of a few centimeters in length, forming one of the most perfect examples of the application of Maxwell's equations.
Excerpted from Electromagnetism by John C. Slater, Nathaniel H. Frank. Copyright © 1947 John C. Slater and Nathaniel H. Frank. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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