To understand classical electrodynamics (or classical electromagnetism) is so old and fundamental to mankind that it is worthwhile to think about the importance of it a little while.

Ancient Fascination for Electromagnetism

In the Book of Genesis already the third verse says "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.". And in the Qu'ran we can find "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth."

Of course the mythological meaning of light in these ancient books is extremely deep. Light is, among other things, meant as a force of creation.

One thing is clear: light itself (and its absence, darkness) has fascinated mankind ever since.

Nevertheless it took us almost our entire existence on this planet to figure out how to describe light as a phenomenon. Static electricity has been known for thousands of years.

Already the Greek knew that rubbing amber would lead to an attraction of some other materials, such as feathers; or iron pieces.

amber with insect inclusion
Amber, or Greek "electron" was one of the first electrostatic materials mankind discovered.

Amber, in Greek is called ἤλεκτρον - "electron".

It may be that our first usage of a magnetic compass before 1000 BC by the Olmecs, a now extinct civilization in Mexico's Gulf coast.

Full-scale electromagnetic phenomena such as lightning were also well known to our ancestors.

However, a thorough understanding of electromagnetism took us thousands of years. It was very hard for us to figure out a connection between phenomena of static electricity, magnetism and electromagnatic ones.

Birth of the Theory of Light

In 1873 James Clerk Maxwell published "A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism". In this two-volume treatise on electromagnetism the Scottish mathematician provided a unified description of electricity, magnetism and light.

Maxwell introduced the use of vector fields for different physical fields such as the electric and magnetic fields. Foremost, Maxwell outlined their mathematical relation in now so-called Maxwell's Equations.

All phenomenon of classical electromagnetism are governed by Maxwell's Equations.

Rainbow showing the spectrum of visible radiation
The theory of electromagnetism gives a fundamental understanding of the colorful rainbow!
Photo by Gerhard Kupfer on Unsplash

Photonics101 on the shoulders of Giants

Maxwell's Equations are hard to understand. They are a set of coupled partial differential equations. To describe physical phenomena, however, these equations often need to be boiled down to a specific approximation.

For example: if the electric and magnetic fields do not vary fastly, their mutual dependency can neglected. In this case we are able to understand phenomenon of electrostatics and magnetostatics.

Therefore, an understanding of electrodynamics usually starts with these very approximations. Our website is structured in the same way:

First, we learn how to correctly describe static effects. We will learn how charges interact, what currents cause and how to mathematically describe the electric and magnetic fields.

Afterwards we relax our approximations a little, which opens a whole no world to electromagnetic circuit theory. Yes, circuits are described by electromagnetism as well! We will be able to enter this field that is the backbone of electronics, the field that has had a deep impact on mankind since the 20th century.

Finally, our understanding can widen to the entire theory of electrodynamics / electromagnetism. In this part we can finally describe light and also understand relativistic phenomena.

The photonics101 approach to learning electromagnetism is two-fold. At first a theoretical description of the theory is given. Then you are invited to solve worksheets / tasks based on the outlined theory. Hints are given to guide you along the way. A complete solution to the task is also outlined.

We hope that you find a reasonable source for your understanding of electromagnetism on our website! We have been putting a lot of effort in these pages and are looking forward to your advancements!

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