- Restate Maxwell’s equations.
- Describe the electric and magnetic waves as they move out from a source, such as an AC generator.
- Explain the mathematical relationship between the magnetic field strength and the electrical field strength.
- Calculate the maximum strength of the magnetic field in an electromagnetic wave, given the maximum electric field strength.
- List three “rules of thumb” that apply to the different frequencies along the electromagnetic spectrum.
- Explain why the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength of an electromagnetic wave.
- Draw a simplified electromagnetic spectrum, indicating the relative positions, frequencies, and spacing of the different types of radiation bands.
- List and explain the different methods by which electromagnetic waves are produced across the spectrum.
- Explain how the energy and amplitude of an electromagnetic wave are related.
- Given its power output and the heating area, calculate the intensity of a microwave oven’s electromagnetic field, as well as its peak electric and magnetic field strengths
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 (-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 Figure 24.2.) 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.
Misconception Alert: Sound Waves vs. Radio Waves
Many people confuse sound waves with radio waves, one type of electromagnetic (EM) wave. However, sound and radio waves are completely different phenomena. Sound creates pressure variations (waves) in matter, such as air or water, or your eardrum. Conversely, radio waves are electromagnetic waves, like visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. EM waves don’t need a medium in which to propagate; they can travel through a vacuum, such as outer space.
A radio works because sound waves played by the D.J. at the radio station are converted into electromagnetic waves, then encoded and transmitted in the radio-frequency range. The radio in your car receives the radio waves, decodes the information, and uses a speaker to change it back into a sound wave, bringing sweet music to your ears.
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.