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## Electromagnetic wave equation

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. The homogeneous form of the
equation, written in terms of either the electric field E or the magnetic field B, takes the form:

2
where is the speed of light in the medium, and is the Laplace operator. In a vacuum, c = c0

= 299,792,458 meters per second, which is the speed of light in free space.[1] The electromagnetic wave
equation derives from Maxwell's equations. It should also be noted that in most older literature, B is
called the magnetic flux density or magnetic induction.

Contents
■ 1 The origin of the electromagnetic wave equation
■ 2 Covariant form of the homogeneous wave equation
■ 3 Homogeneous wave equation in curved spacetime
■ 4 Inhomogeneous electromagnetic wave equation
■ 5 Solutions to the homogeneous electromagnetic wave equation
■ 5.1 Monochromatic, sinusoidal steady-state
■ 5.2 Plane wave solutions
■ 5.3 Spectral decomposition
■ 5.4 Other solutions
■ 6.1 Theory and Experiment
■ 6.2 Applications
■ 7 Notes
■ 8 References
■ 9 Further reading
■ 9.1 Electromagnetism
■ 9.1.1 Journal articles
■ 9.1.2 Undergraduate-level textbooks
■ 9.1.3 Graduate-level textbooks
■ 9.2 Vector calculus
■ 9.3 Biographies

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■ 10 External links

## The origin of the electromagnetic wave equation

In his 1864 paper titled A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic
Field, Maxwell utilized the correction to Ampère's circuital law that he
had made in part III of his 1861 paper On Physical Lines of Force

## A postcard from Maxwell to

Peter Tait.

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b8/On_Physical_Lines_of_Force.pdf) . In PART VI
of his 1864 paper which is entitled 'ELECTROMAGNETIC THEORY OF LIGHT'[2], Maxwell combined
displacement current with some of the other equations of electromagnetism and he obtained a wave
equation with a speed equal to the speed of light. He commented:

The agreement of the results seems to show that light and magnetism are affections of the same
substance, and that light is an electromagnetic disturbance propagated through the field according
to electromagnetic laws.[3]

Maxwell's derivation of the electromagnetic wave equation has been replaced in modern physics by a
much less cumbersome method involving combining the corrected version of Ampère's circuital law with
Faraday's law of induction.

To obtain the electromagnetic wave equation in a vacuum using the modern method, we begin with the
modern 'Heaviside' form of Maxwell's equations. In a vacuum and charge free space, these equations are:

## Taking the curl of the curl equations gives:

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## By using the vector identity

where is any vector function of space, it turns into the wave equations:

## Covariant form of the homogeneous wave equation

These relativistic equations can be written in
contravariant form as

## with the Lorenz gauge condition:

Where

is the d'Alembertian

## operator. (The square box is not a typographical

error; it is the correct symbol for this operator.)

## Homogeneous wave equation in Time dilation in transversal motion. The

curved spacetime requirement that the speed of light is constant in
every inertial reference frame leads to the
Main article: Maxwell's equations in curved theory of Special Relativity.
spacetime

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The electromagnetic wave equation is modified in two ways, the derivative is replaced with the covariant
derivative and a new term that depends on the curvature appears.

where is the Ricci curvature tensor and the semicolon indicates covariant differentiation.

## Inhomogeneous electromagnetic wave equation

Main article: Inhomogeneous electromagnetic wave equation

Localized time-varying charge and current densities can act as sources of electromagnetic waves in a
vacuum. Maxwell's equations can be written in the form of a wave equation with sources. The addition of
sources to the wave equations makes the partial differential equations inhomogeneous.

## Solutions to the homogeneous electromagnetic wave equation

Main article: Wave equation

The general solution to the electromagnetic wave equation is a linear superposition of waves of the form

and

## is the angular frequency (in radians per second), and

is the wave vector (in radians per meter).

Although the function g can be and often is a monochromatic sine wave, it does not have to be sinusoidal,
or even periodic. In practice, g cannot have infinite periodicity because any real electromagnetic wave
must always have a finite extent in time and space. As a result, and based on the theory of Fourier
decomposition, a real wave must consist of the superposition of an infinite set of sinusoidal frequencies.

In addition, for a valid solution, the wave vector and the angular frequency are not independent; they
must adhere to the dispersion relation:

## where k is the wavenumber and λ is the wavelength.

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## Monochromatic, sinusoidal steady-state

The simplest set of solutions to the wave equation result from assuming sinusoidal waveforms of a single
frequency in separable form:

where

## ■ is the imaginary unit,

■ is the angular frequency in radians per second,
■ is the frequency in hertz, and
■ is Euler's formula.

## Plane wave solutions

Main article: Sinusoidal plane-wave solutions of the electromagnetic wave equation

and

where

## is the position vector (in meters).

These solutions represent planar waves traveling in the direction of the normal vector . If we define the
z direction as the direction of and the x direction as the direction of , then by Faraday's Law the
magnetic field lies in the y direction and is related to the electric field by the relation . Because
the divergence of the electric and magnetic fields are zero, there are no fields in the direction of
propagation.

This solution is the linearly polarized solution of the wave equations. There are also circularly polarized
solutions in which the fields rotate about the normal vector.

Spectral decomposition
Because of the linearity of Maxwell's equations in a vacuum, solutions can be decomposed into a
superposition of sinusoids. This is the basis for the Fourier transform method for the solution of
differential equations. The sinusoidal solution to the electromagnetic wave equation takes the form

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and

where

## is time (in seconds),

is the angular frequency (in radians per second),
is the wave vector (in radians per meter), and
is the phase angle (in radians).

## where k is the wavenumber and λ is the wavelength.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a plot of the field magnitudes (or energies) as a function of wavelength.

Other solutions
Spherically symmetric and cylindrically symmetric analytic solutions to the electromagnetic wave
equations are also possible.

In spherical coordinates the solutions to the wave equation can be written as follows:

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and

## These can be rewritten in terms of the spherical bessel function.

In cylindrical coordinates, the solutions to the wave equation are the ordinary bessel function of integer
order.

Theory and Experiment

## ■ Maxwell's equations ■ Special relativity

■ Wave equation ■ General relativity
■ Electromagnetic modeling ■ Photon dynamics in the double-slit
■ Electromagnetic radiation experiment
■ Charge conservation ■ Photon polarization
■ Light ■ Larmor power formula
■ Electromagnetic spectrum ■ Theoretical and experimental justification
■ Optics for the Schrödinger equation

Applications

## ■ Rainbow ■ Radio waves

■ Cosmic microwave background radiation ■ Optical computing
■ Laser ■ Microwave
■ Laser fusion ■ Holography
■ Photography ■ Microscope
■ X-ray ■ Telescope
■ X-ray crystallography ■ Gravitational lens

Notes
1. ^ Current practice is to use c0 to denote the speed of light in vacuum according to ISO 31. In the original
Recommendation of 1983, the symbol c was used for this purpose. See NIST Special Publication 330,
Appendix 2, p. 45 (http://physics.nist.gov/Pubs/SP330/sp330.pdf)
2. ^ Maxwell 1864
page 497.
3. ^ See Maxwell 1864
page 499.

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References
Electromagnetism

Journal articles

## ■ Maxwell, James Clerk, "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field

", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 155, 459-512 (1865). (This article
accompanied a December 8, 1864 presentation by Maxwell to the Royal Society.)

■ Griffiths, David J. (1998). Introduction to Electrodynamics (3rd ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-
805326-X.
■ Tipler, Paul (2004). Physics for Scientists and Engineers: Electricity, Magnetism, Light, and
Elementary Modern Physics (5th ed.). W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-0810-8.
■ Edward M. Purcell, Electricity and Magnetism (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1985). ISBN 0-07-
004908-4.
■ Hermann A. Haus and James R. Melcher, Electromagnetic Fields and Energy (Prentice-Hall, 1989)
ISBN 0-13-249020-X.
■ Banesh Hoffmann, Relativity and Its Roots (Freeman, New York, 1983). ISBN 0-7167-1478-7.
■ David H. Staelin, Ann W. Morgenthaler, and Jin Au Kong, Electromagnetic Waves (Prentice-Hall,
1994) ISBN 0-13-225871-4.
■ Charles F. Stevens, The Six Core Theories of Modern Physics, (MIT Press, 1995) ISBN 0-262-
69188-4.
■ Markus Zahn, Electromagnetic Field Theory: a problem solving approach, (John Wiley & Sons,
1979) ISBN 0-471-02198-9

■ Jackson, John D. (1998). Classical Electrodynamics (3rd ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0-471-30932-X.
■ Landau, L. D., The Classical Theory of Fields (Course of Theoretical Physics: Volume 2),
(Butterworth-Heinemann: Oxford, 1987). ISBN 0-08-018176-7.
■ Maxwell, James C. (1954). A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Dover. ISBN 0-486-60637-6.
■ Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation, (1970) W.H. Freeman,
New York; ISBN 0-7167-0344-0. (Provides a treatment of Maxwell's equations in terms of
differential forms.)

Vector calculus
■ P. C. Matthews Vector Calculus, Springer 1998, ISBN 3-540-76180-2
■ H. M. Schey, Div Grad Curl and all that: An informal text on vector calculus, 4th edition (W. W.
Norton & Company, 2005) ISBN 0-393-92516-1.

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Biographies
■ Andre Marie Ampere
■ Albert Einstein
■ Heinrich Hertz
■ Oliver Heaviside
■ James Clerk Maxwell

Categories: Electrodynamics | Electromagnetic radiation | Electromagnetism | Equations | Partial
differential equations | Fundamental physics concepts

■ Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms
Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

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