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.
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.