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This module is concerned with the electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation that pervade the world around you. It shows how the main ideas of electromagnetism can be encapsulated in the famous Maxwell’s equations. These can be used to explain the properties of light and radio waves; the magnetic fields produced by brain activity; the way a television tube works; the transparency of the cornea in your eye; and many other phenomena. If you're interested in the ways that physics and mathematics are used to understand the world around you, then this would be an appropriate module to study. 

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

Student Reviews

Good course. Difficult though. Watch out for vector calculus and make sure you have done either MST209 or MST210 before...
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A good course - my favourite level 3 physics course. The course builds the concepts of electromagnetism from the ground...
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What you will study

The module will give you a detailed understanding of the theory of electromagnetism, which is one of the cornerstones of classical physics. It shows how the essential parts of this theory can be summarised in Maxwell's four equations and the Lorentz force equation. It uses these to develop an understanding of a wide range of physical phenomena, from the behaviour of light to the electrical and magnetic properties of materials, and of a broad range of applications, ranging from astrophysics, through materials science and technology, to medicine and biology. The module will provide you with many opportunities to develop your ability in using advanced physics concepts and mathematical techniques (such as vector calculus) to describe aspects of the physical world and to find quantitative answers to problems.

The study materials include three books, accompanied by DVD-ROMs containing computer-based activities and video material.

Book 1, An Introduction to Maxwell’s Equations brings together most of the key concepts of electromagnetism that are used in the module. Starting with basic ideas of electric charge and current, it develops an understanding of the important concepts of electric and magnetic fields, and shows how they are related by Maxwell’s four equations. The culmination of the book is the demonstration that Maxwell’s equations lead to the prediction of the existence of electromagnetic waves, and the identification of light as part of a spectrum of electromagnetic waves that stretch from short-wavelength gamma rays and X-rays through to longer-wavelength microwaves and radio waves. The book builds on the physics in Physics: from classical to quantum (S217) and much of the mathematics will be familiar from Mathematical methods (MST224). However, one of the major roles of this book is to show how the language of mathematics, and vector calculus in particular, provides a concise and powerful framework for describing electromagnetic concepts and phenomena and the complex spatial arrangements that are implicit in them. You will also see how the physical phenomena can give meaning to mathematical ideas and techniques that you may have previously encountered in more abstract contexts.

Book 2, Electromagnetic Fields shows how electric and magnetic fields are modified in the presence of electrically conducting and insulating materials, or magnetic materials. It equips you with a range of tools and techniques for determining the fields and forces due to various arrangements of charge or current. Other chapters are concerned with practical issues like how currents are generated, and the forces that are experienced by charges and currents in the presence of electric and magnetic fields. The book concludes with a chapter on superconductivity and a discussion of the insights that the theory of special relativity gives to the relationship between electric and magnetic fields.

Book 3, Electromagnetic Waves explores solutions to Maxwell’s equations that correspond to electromagnetic waves, and uses a simple model to demonstrate how such waves can be generated by oscillating currents. By considering the propagation of electromagnetic waves in different materials and what happens to the waves at boundaries between materials, we are able to show that Maxwell’s equations can explain many familiar results of optics, such as the laws of reflection and refraction, and can explain why the sky is blue and why light from the sky is polarised. Other chapters explore electromagnetic waves in plasmas, the ionised gases found in the ionosphere, in stars and in interstellar space, and discuss how the interaction of light with the cornea of the eye accounts for its transparency, in contrast to the opaqueness of other biological tissues.

Professional recognition

This module, when studied as part of an honours degree in the physical sciences or engineering, can help you gain membership of the Institute of Physics (IOP). For further information about the IOP, visit their website.

This module may also help you to gain membership of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). For further information, see the IMA website.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you’ll likely need a headset with a microphone.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You will, however, be granted the option of submitting on paper if typesetting electronically or merging scanned images of your answers to produce an electronic TMA would take you an unacceptably long time.

There will be a mixture of online interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs) and short tutor-marked assignments (TMAs), with a total workload equivalent of three full TMAs.

Both the iCMAs and TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice rather than on assessment. The feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module. The feedback on the iCMAs will be instantaneous and hints will be given so that you can refine any incorrect answers. Although your scores on all these assignments will not contribute directly to your module grade, they form an essential part of the learning process and you will be required to submit a proportion of them to complete the module. You will be given detailed information when you start the module.

Future availability

Electromagnetism (SMT359) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2021.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2021.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    6 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU Level 3 module that builds on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU Levels 1 and 2. It is intended for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject at this level.

    The module is designed to follow Mathematical methods (MST224) or Mathematical methods, models and modelling (MST210), and Physics: from classical to quantum (S217). You would find it very difficult to study SMT359 without the necessary mathematical background. The parts of MST224 or MST210 relating to partial differentiation, multiple integrals, vector calculus and complex numbers are especially important. S217 is the ideal physics module to prepare you for studying SMT359, especially Units 9–14.

    It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. We've produced a booklet Are You Ready For SMT359? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    Since the module builds on the physics in Physics: from classical to quantum (S217) and in Mathematical methods (MST224), we recommend that you revise the relevant parts of these modules in the months before you start to study SMT359. This is particularly important if it is some time since you studied these modules, or if the Are You Ready For SMT359? booklet indicates that there are gaps in your knowledge or mathematical skills. The booklet gives advice on the relevant topics to revise.


    Start End Fee Register
    02 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 Not yet available

    Registration opens on 18/03/21

    October 2021 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2021. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 07/03/2021.

    What's included

    You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assessment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access

    You'll also be provided with three printed module books, each covering one block of study, a printed glossary and a DVD pack containing interactive computer packages and video material.

    You will need

    Basic scientific calculator.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    • A desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows
    • The screen must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SMT359 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.