Lesson 8, Topic 1
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Maxwell’s Contributions to Electromagnetism

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Unification of Electricity and Magnetism

Maxwell combined the ideas that a moving point charge (current) generates a magnetic field, while a changing magnetic field generates an electromotive force (voltage).

Here are his main ideas:

  • If a changing electric field is produced, this will produce a magnetic field at right angles to itself.
  • The changing magnetic field would, in turn, produce a changing electric field.
  • The cycle would repeat, creating two mutually propagating fields.
A visualisation of a self-propagating electromagnetic wave. The vector E represents the electric field while B represents the magnetic field.

Maxwell was able to unify the theories of electricity and magnetism by showing that they were intrinsically related to each other through his prediction of the electromagnetic wave.

Prediction of Velocity

Maxwell’s calculations provided a predicted value for the speed of an electromagnetic wave (through empty space). This value closely matched experimental measurements of the speed of light, which suggested light may be a form of electromagnetic radiation.