Electromagnetism is a branch of physics which involves the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically chargedparticles. The electromagnetic force usually exhibits electromagnetic fields, such as electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The electromagnetic force is one of the fourfundamental interactions (commonly called forces) in nature. The other three fundamental interactions are the strong interaction, the weak interaction, and gravitation.
The word electromagnetism is a compound form of two Greek terms, ἤλεκτρον, ēlektron, “amber“, and μαγνῆτις λίθος magnētis lithos, which means “magnesian stone”, a type of iron ore. Electromagnetic phenomena are defined in terms of the electromagnetic force, sometimes called the Lorentz force, which includes both electricity andmagnetism as different manifestations of the same phenomenon.
The electromagnetic force plays a major role in determining the internal properties of most objects encountered in daily life. Ordinary matter takes its form as a result ofintermolecular forces between individual atoms and molecules in matter, and are a manifestation of the electromagnetic force. Electrons are bound by the electromagnetic force to atomic nuclei, and their orbital shapes and their influence on nearby atoms with their electrons is described by quantum mechanics. The electromagnetic force governs the processes involved in chemistry, which arise from interactions between the electrons of neighboring atoms.
There are numerous mathematical descriptions of the electromagnetic field. In classical electrodynamics, electric fields are described as electric potential and electric current. In Faraday’s law, magnetic fields are associated with electromagnetic induction and magnetism, and Maxwell’s equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and altered by each other and by charges and currents.
The theoretical implications of electromagnetism, in particular the establishment of the speed of light based on properties of the “medium” of propagation (permeability andpermittivity), led to the development of special relativity by Albert Einstein in 1905.
Although electromagnetism is considered one of the four fundamental forces, at high energy the weak force and electromagnetic force are unified as a single electroweak force. In the history of the universe, during the quark epoch the unified force broke into the two separate forces as the universe cooled.
The electromagnetic force is one of the four known fundamental forces. The other fundamental forces are:
- the weak nuclear force, which binds to all known particles in the Standard Model, and causes certain forms of radioactive decay. (In particle physics though, the electroweak interaction is the unified description of two of the four known fundamental interactions of nature: electromagnetism and the weak interaction);
- the strong nuclear force, which binds quarks to form nucleons, and binds nucleons to form nuclei
- the gravitational force.
All other forces (e.g., friction, contact forces) are derived from these four fundamental forces (including momentum which is carried by the movement of particles).
The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting between the electrically charged atomic nuclei andelectrons of the atoms. Electromagnetic forces also explain how these particles carry momentum by their movement. This includes the forces we experience in “pushing” or “pulling” ordinary material objects, which result from the intermolecular forces that act between the individual molecules in our bodies and those in the objects. The electromagnetic force is also involved in all forms of chemical phenomena.
A necessary part of understanding the intra-atomic and intermolecular forces is the effective force generated by the momentum of the electrons’ movement, such that as electrons move between interacting atoms they carry momentum with them. As a collection of electrons becomes more confined, their minimum momentum necessarily increases due to the Pauli exclusion principle. The behaviour of matter at the molecular scale including its density is determined by the balance between the electromagnetic force and the force generated by the exchange of momentum carried by the electrons themselves.
In 1600, William Gilbert proposed, in his De Magnete, that electricity and magnetism, while both capable of causing attraction and repulsion of objects, were distinct effects. Mariners had noticed that lightning strikes had the ability to disturb a compass needle, but the link between lightning and electricity was not confirmed until Benjamin Franklin‘s proposed experiments in 1752. One of the first to discover and publish a link between man-made electric current and magnetism was Romagnosi, who in 1802 noticed that connecting a wire across a voltaic pile deflected a nearby compass needle. However, the effect did not become widely known until 1820, when Ørsted performed a similar experiment. Ørsted’s work influenced Ampère to produce a theory of electromagnetism that set the subject on a mathematical foundation.
A theory of electromagnetism, known as classical electromagnetism, was developed by various physicists over the course of the 19th century, culminating in the work of James Clerk Maxwell, who unified the preceding developments into a single theory and discovered the electromagnetic nature of light. In classical electromagnetism, the behavior of the electromagnetic field is described by a set of equations known as Maxwell’s equations, and the electromagnetic force is given by the Lorentz force law.
One of the peculiarities of classical electromagnetism is that it is difficult to reconcile with classical mechanics, but it is compatible with special relativity. According to Maxwell’s equations, the speed of light in a vacuum is a universal constant that is dependent only on the electrical permittivity and magnetic permeability of free space. This violates Galilean invariance, a long-standing cornerstone of classical mechanics. One way to reconcile the two theories (electromagnetism and classical mechanics) is to assume the existence of a luminiferous aether through which the light propagates. However, subsequent experimental efforts failed to detect the presence of the aether. After important contributions of Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré, in 1905, Albert Einstein solved the problem with the introduction of special relativity, which replaced classical kinematics with a new theory of kinematics compatible with classical electromagnetism. (For more information, see History of special relativity.)
In addition, relativity theory implies that in moving frames of reference a magnetic field transforms to a field with a nonzero electric component and conversely, a moving electric field transforms to a nonzero magnetic component, thus firmly showing that the phenomena are two sides of the same coin. Hence the term “electromagnetism”. (For more information, see Classical electromagnetism and special relativity and Covariant formulation of classical electromagnetism.