Giáo trình

College Physics

Science and Technology

Introduction to Electromagnetic Waves

Tác giả: OpenStaxCollege

The beauty of a coral reef, the warm radiance of sunshine, the sting of sunburn, the X-ray revealing a broken bone, even microwave popcorn—all are brought to us by electromagnetic waves. The list of the various types of electromagnetic waves, ranging from radio transmission waves to nuclear gamma-ray ($\gamma$-ray) emissions, is interesting in itself.

Even more intriguing is that all of these widely varied phenomena are different manifestations of the same thing—electromagnetic waves. (See [link].) What are electromagnetic waves? How are they created, and how do they travel? How can we understand and organize their widely varying properties? What is their relationship to electric and magnetic effects? These and other questions will be explored.

Discovering a New Phenomenon

It is worth noting at the outset that the general phenomenon of electromagnetic waves was predicted by theory before it was realized that light is a form of electromagnetic wave. The prediction was made by James Clerk Maxwell in the mid-19th century when he formulated a single theory combining all the electric and magnetic effects known by scientists at that time. “Electromagnetic waves” was the name he gave to the phenomena his theory predicted.

Such a theoretical prediction followed by experimental verification is an indication of the power of science in general, and physics in particular. The underlying connections and unity of physics allow certain great minds to solve puzzles without having all the pieces. The prediction of electromagnetic waves is one of the most spectacular examples of this power. Certain others, such as the prediction of antimatter, will be discussed in later modules.