Electromagnetic Theory And History

Back to PEMF Education

Electromagnetic Theory and History

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the theories of electricity and magnetism were investigated simultaneously. In 1819 an important discovery was made by the Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted, who found that a magnetic needle could be deflected by an electric current flowing through a wire. This discovery, which showed a connection between electricity and magnetism, was followed up by the French scientist André Marie Ampère, who studied the forces between wires carrying electric currents, and by the French physicist Dominique François Jean Arago, who magnetized a piece of iron by placing it near a current-carrying wire. In 1831 the English scientist Michael Faraday discovered that moving a magnet near a wire induces an electric current in that wire, the inverse effect to that found by Oersted: Oersted showed that an electric current creates a magnetic field, while Faraday showed that a magnetic field can be used to create an electric current. The full unification of the theories of electricity and magnetism was achieved by the English physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves and identified light as an electromagnetic phenomenon.

Subsequent studies of magnetism were increasingly concerned with an understanding of the atomic and molecular origins of the magnetic properties of matter. In 1905 the French physicist Paul Langevin produced a theory regarding the temperature dependence of the magnetic properties of paramagnets (discussed below), which was based on the atomic structure of matter. This theory is an early example of the description of large-scale properties in terms of the properties of electrons and atoms. Langevin’s theory was subsequently expanded by the French physicist Pierre Ernst Weiss, who postulated the existence of an internal, “molecular” magnetic field in materials such as iron. This concept, when combined with Langevin’s theory, served to explain the properties of strongly magnetic materials such as lodestone.

After Weiss’s theory, magnetic properties were explored in greater and greater detail. The theory of atomic structure of Danish physicist Niels Bohr, for example, provided an understanding of the periodic table and showed why magnetism occurs in transition elements such as iron and the rare earth elements, or in compounds containing these elements. The American physicists Samuel Abraham Goudsmit and George Eugene Uhlenbeck showed in 1925 that the electron itself has spin and behaves like a small bar magnet. (At the atomic level, magnetism is measured in terms of magnetic moments—a magnetic moment is a vector quantity that depends on the strength and orientation of the magnetic field, and the configuration of the object that produces the magnetic field.) The German physicist Werner Heisenberg gave a detailed explanation for Weiss’s molecular field in 1927, on the basis of the newly-developed quantum mechanics (see Quantum Theory). Other scientists then predicted many more complex atomic arrangements of magnetic moments, with diverse magnetic properties.

Tesla, unit of measurement of magnetic flux density in the International System of Units (SI), or meter-kilogram-second units. Magnetic flux, measured in webers, is the force that a magnet or electromagnetic source exerts on other magnets or charged particles, such as electrons, in its vicinity. A tesla is defined as 1 weber of magnetic flux per square meter. The unit is named after Croatian-born American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. Tesla invented a system of generating alternating current, as well as the Tesla coil, a tranformer used in radios, televisions, and other electronic equipment.

In centimeter-gram-second units, magnetic flux density is measured in gauss. A tesla corresponds to 104 (10,000) gauss. Engineers and physicists use the tesla in work involving strong magnetic fields, such as the fields of electromagnets in particle accelerators. The fields of these magnets measure around 1 tesla. The magnetic field generated by a superconducting magnet can measure 50 tesla or more. The earth’s magnetic field is about 10-4 (.0001) tesla, or 1 gauss.

Back to PEMF Education