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Since changing electric fields create relatively weak magnetic fields, they could not be easily detected at the time of Maxwell’s hypothesis. Maxwell realized, however, that oscillating charges, like those in AC circuits, produce changing electric fields. He predicted that these changing fields would propagate from the source like waves generated on a lake by a jumping fish.

The waves predicted by Maxwell would consist of oscillating electric and magnetic fields—defined to be an electromagnetic wave (EM wave). Electromagnetic waves would be capable of exerting forces on charges great distances from their source, and they might thus be detectable. Maxwell calculated that electromagnetic waves would propagate at a speed given by the equation

c = 1 μ 0 ε 0 . size 12{"c "= { {1} over { sqrt {μ rSub { size 8{0} } ε rSub { size 8{0} } } } } } {}

When the values for μ 0 size 12{μ rSub { size 8{0} } } {} and ε 0 size 12{ε rSub { size 8{0} } } {} are entered into the equation for c , we find that

c = 1 ( 8 . 85 × 10 12 C 2 N m 2 ) ( × 10 7 T m A ) = 3 . 00 × 10 8 m/s , size 12{"c "= { {1} over { sqrt { \( 8 "." "85" times "10" rSup { size 8{-"12"} } { {C rSup { size 8{2} } } over {N cdot m rSup { size 8{2} } } } \) \( 4π´"10" rSup { size 8{-7} } { {T cdot m} over {A} } \) } } } =" 3" "." "00"´" 10" rSup { size 8{8} } " m/s"} {}

which is the speed of light. In fact, Maxwell concluded that light is an electromagnetic wave having such wavelengths that it can be detected by the eye.

Other wavelengths should exist—it remained to be seen if they did. If so, Maxwell’s theory and remarkable predictions would be verified, the greatest triumph of physics since Newton. Experimental verification came within a few years, but not before Maxwell’s death.

Hertz’s observations

The German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894) was the first to generate and detect certain types of electromagnetic waves in the laboratory. Starting in 1887, he performed a series of experiments that not only confirmed the existence of electromagnetic waves, but also verified that they travel at the speed of light.

Hertz used an AC RLC size 12{ ital "RLC"} {} (resistor-inductor-capacitor) circuit that resonates at a known frequency f 0 = 1 LC size 12{f rSub { size 8{0} } = { {1} over {2π sqrt { ital "LC"} } } } {} and connected it to a loop of wire as shown in [link] . High voltages induced across the gap in the loop produced sparks that were visible evidence of the current in the circuit and that helped generate electromagnetic waves.

Across the laboratory, Hertz had another loop attached to another RLC size 12{ ital "RLC"} {} circuit, which could be tuned (as the dial on a radio) to the same resonant frequency as the first and could, thus, be made to receive electromagnetic waves. This loop also had a gap across which sparks were generated, giving solid evidence that electromagnetic waves had been received.

The circuit diagram shows a simple circuit containing an alternating voltage source, a resistor R, capacitor C and a transformer, which provides the impedance. The transformer is shown to consist of two coils separated by a core. In parallel with the transformer is connected a wire loop labeled as Loop one Transmitter with a small gap that creates sparks across the gap. The sparks create electromagnetic waves, which are transmitted through the air to a similar loop next to it labeled as Loop two Receiver. These waves induce sparks in Loop two, and are detected by the tuner shown as a rectangular box connected to it.
The apparatus used by Hertz in 1887 to generate and detect electromagnetic waves. An RLC size 12{ ital "RLC"} {} circuit connected to the first loop caused sparks across a gap in the wire loop and generated electromagnetic waves. Sparks across a gap in the second loop located across the laboratory gave evidence that the waves had been received.

Hertz also studied the reflection, refraction, and interference patterns of the electromagnetic waves he generated, verifying their wave character. He was able to determine wavelength from the interference patterns, and knowing their frequency, he could calculate the propagation speed using the equation υ = size 12{υ=fλ} {} (velocity—or speed—equals frequency times wavelength). Hertz was thus able to prove that electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. The SI unit for frequency, the hertz ( 1 Hz = 1 cycle/sec size 12{1" Hz"=1" cycle/sec"} {} ), is named in his honor.

Section summary

  • Electromagnetic waves consist of oscillating electric and magnetic fields and propagate at the speed of light c . They were predicted by Maxwell, who also showed that
    c = 1 μ 0 ε 0 , size 12{"c "= { {1} over { sqrt {μ rSub { size 8{0} } ε rSub { size 8{0} } } } } } {}

    where μ 0 size 12{μ rSub { size 8{0} } } {} is the permeability of free space and ε 0 size 12{ε rSub { size 8{0} } } {} is the permittivity of free space.

  • Maxwell’s prediction of electromagnetic waves resulted from his formulation of a complete and symmetric theory of electricity and magnetism, known as Maxwell’s equations.
  • These four equations are paraphrased in this text, rather than presented numerically, and encompass the major laws of electricity and magnetism. First is Gauss’s law for electricity, second is Gauss’s law for magnetism, third is Faraday’s law of induction, including Lenz’s law, and fourth is Ampere’s law in a symmetric formulation that adds another source of magnetism—changing electric fields.


Verify that the correct value for the speed of light c is obtained when numerical values for the permeability and permittivity of free space ( μ 0 size 12{μ rSub { size 8{0} } } {} and ε 0 size 12{ε rSub { size 8{0} } } {} ) are entered into the equation c = 1 μ 0 ε 0 size 12{"c "= { {1} over { sqrt {μ rSub { size 8{0} } ε rSub { size 8{0} } } } } } {} .

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Show that, when SI units for μ 0 size 12{μ rSub { size 8{0} } } {} and ε 0 size 12{ε rSub { size 8{0} } } {} are entered, the units given by the right-hand side of the equation in the problem above are m/s.

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Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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