# How can electromagnetic waves be transverse?

• daniel rl3
In summary: I always thought the problem was the term "perpendicular", which suggests spatial extent. "Orthogonal" might be a better term to use, since it refers to general dimensions that are linearly independent and forces the reader to consider the matter on a more abstract...level.
daniel rl3
how can the electromagnetic waves be transverse and at the same time the E.M propagates in space (the definition of the transverse wave is that it is a wave in which it's medium particles propagate perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation) what i don't understand is that how can it propagate through medium while it is already at space

daniel rl3 said:
how can the electromagnetic waves be transverse and at the same time the E.M propagates in space (the definition of the transverse wave is that it is a wave in which it's medium particles propagate perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation) what i don't understand is that how can it propagate through medium while it is already at space
Welcome to PF Daniel!

Where did you get your definition of a transverse wave?

For electromagnetic waves, the oscillation is not a material substance. Rather it is electric and magnetic fields that oscillate.

Propagation of light through a medium can be more complicated because of the interactions between the electric fields of atoms and the electric and magnetic field oscillations of the em wave. You should read https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/do-photons-move-slower-in-a-solid-medium.511177/ to get a better sense of how an electromagnetic wave propagates through matter.

AM

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daniel rl3
Andrew Mason said:
Welcome to PF Daniel!

Where did you get your definition of a transverse wave?

For electromagnetic waves, the oscillation is not a material substance. Rather it is electric and magnetic fields that oscillate.

Propagation of light through a medium can be more complicated because of the interactions between the electric fields of atoms and the electric and magnetic field oscillations of the em wave. You should read https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/do-photons-move-slower-in-a-solid-medium.511177/ to get a better sense of how an electromagnetic wave propagates through matter.

AM
and about the definition, i saw it in a variety of websites and it was also written in my physics book.

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daniel rl3 said:
and about the definition, i saw it in a variety of websites and it was also written in my physics book.
That definition of the transverse wave: "a wave in which it's medium particles propagate perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation" applies only to mechanical waves involving oscillations of matter. An electromagnetic wave is not such a wave.

A better, more general definition of a transverse wave might be: "a wave in which the oscillation of particles in the case of a mechanical wave, or of energy fields in the case of a non-mechanical wave such as an electromagnetic wave, propagate perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation". Generally, a transverse wave is the solution to the differential equation of the general form:

##\frac{d^2u}{dt^2} = c^2\frac{du^2}{dx^2}##

Maxwell recognized this kind relationship between time dependent electric and magnetic fields and saw that its solution was a transverse wave with speed ##c = \frac{1}{\sqrt{\epsilon_0\mu_0}}##

AM

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daniel rl3 said:
it was also written in my physics book.
It seems likely, to me, that the statement related to transverse mechanical waves (e.g. waves along strings). There are no 'oscillating particles' involved when EM waves travel through space. However, when there are free electrons floating around (as in the Ionosphere) and the waves are at fairly low frequencies (HF and below), the individual electrons can be modeled as moving from side to side as the oscillating EM fields interact with them. But that is more advanced work and basic propagation through free space should be tackled first.

PS do not confuse this with the 'so called particles' of EM energy (photons) which do not wiggle about and have no defined position at all.

Is it not accurate to say that for electromagnetic waves (or photons) that the electrical and magnetic fields oscillate at right angles to the direction of travel and are thus transverse waves?

The waves are not photons. You cannot talk about both at the same time. The waves consist of varying transverse fields (as you wrote). That is nothing to do with the photons which are quantum particles and have no classical nature.

So, there are no electric and magnetic fields in photons?

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Andrew Mason said:
A better, more general definition of a transverse wave might be: "a wave in which the oscillation of particles in the case of a mechanical wave, or of energy fields in the case of a non-mechanical wave such as an electromagnetic wave, propagate perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation".

Lol. No offense, that is such a convoluted statement, it adds to noone's understanding. More words =/= clarity.

I always thought the problem was the term "perpendicular", which suggests spatial extent. "Orthogonal" might be a better term to use, since it refers to general dimensions that are linearly independent and forces the reader to consider the matter on a more abstract matter.

rumborak said:
Lol. No offense, that is such a convoluted statement, it adds to noone's understanding. More words =/= clarity.
It was just the definition provided by the OP with an addition to include em waves. What is convoluted about that? Perhaps you could suggest a better one.

I always thought the problem was the term "perpendicular", which suggests spatial extent. "Orthogonal" might be a better term to use, since it refers to general dimensions that are linearly independent and forces the reader to consider the matter on a more abstract matter.
??

Perpendicular means 90 degrees or ##\pi/2## radians of spatial angle. In a transverse wave the motion of the matter or fields is in a direction that is 90 degrees to the direction of propagation of the wave.

AM

insightful said:
So, there are no electric and magnetic fields in photons?
The electric and magnetic fields are classical concepts Electromagnetic waves follow from Maxwell's equations. The photon does not follow from Maxwell's equations. While the photon interacts with electromagnetic fields it cannot be explained classically. In quantum electrodynamics the photon is the modeled as the carrier of electomagnetic force.

AM

insightful said:
So, there are no electric and magnetic fields in photons?
Perhaps 'associated with' would be a better way of putting it.
Perhaps you would like to try to 'draw' a photon, for yourself, and show how you imagine the E and H fields fit 'in' with it. You are trying to combine Classical and Quantum ideas together and you can hardly be blamed for that, bearing in mind how we are taught such things, initially. If you try to draw a photon, you have to give it a size and a position. How would you do that in a valid way? Feynman really didn't help when he drew his Feynman Diagram with a little wiggly thing, going from one particle to another. He knew what he meant and didn't, apparently, realize that not everyone is as smart as him and that we could all take the picture literally, rather than regard it as a symbolic, functional diagram. Treat it with caution.

Ablosutely, EM fields "associated with" photons is much better. So, those EM fields associated with photons are transverse waves, right? I'm trying to get to an answer to OP's question. (Perhaps it's already been answered. OP?)

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Andrew Mason said:
It was just the definition provided by the OP with an addition to include em waves. What is convoluted about that? Perhaps you could suggest a better one.

??

Perpendicular means 90 degrees or ##\pi/2## radians of spatial angle. In a transverse wave the motion of the matter or fields is in a direction that is 90 degrees to the direction of propagation of the wave.

AM

I must apologize, I actually just realized something myself about this topic, which I had misunderstood before. I somehow thought that the term "perpendicular" was chosen lackadaisically, I.e. that they were really trying to say "well, it's not extending into space, so by definition it is perpendicular". I was essentially visualizing it wrongly as a scalar field. Only now did it click with me that indeed E and B's vectors are pointing perpendicular to the direction of travel.

sophiecentaur said:
The waves are not photons. You cannot talk about both at the same time. The waves consist of varying transverse fields (as you wrote). That is nothing to do with the photons which are quantum particles and have no classical nature.
sorry i don't quite understand. didn't de brojle say that the photons have dual nature ( particle nature and wave nature) how come that the photons are not considered as waves? and if they act as a wave what kind of wave are they?

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De Broglie said that matter can be described in terms of waves. Aamof it was not photons.
I tried to write what I meant concisely. The 'dual nature' does not mean they are the same. My message was that EM can be analysed from either standpoint, NOT that photons 'are' waves. Do not rely on my statement. Just read about this at a suitably informed level . (PF search could help, probably)

daniel rl3
daniel rl3 said:
sorry i don't quite understand. didn't de brojle say that the photons have dual nature ( particle nature and wave nature) how come that the photons are not considered as waves? and if they act as a wave what kind of wave are they?
It is very confusing. The photon is not modeled as a small electromagnetic wave. The λ or ν in Plank's law relates the photon energy to the wavelength of the light that the photon is associated with. The nature of the photon is something that puzzled Richard Feynman who helped to develop Quantum Field Theory to explain it.

AM

daniel rl3

## 1. What are transverse electromagnetic waves?

Transverse electromagnetic waves, also known as TEM waves, are a type of electromagnetic radiation that are characterized by their perpendicular oscillations of the electric and magnetic fields. This means that the electric and magnetic fields are both perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation.

## 2. How are transverse electromagnetic waves created?

Transverse electromagnetic waves are created when an electric charge is accelerated or when a magnetic field changes over time. They are also produced by electromagnetic radiation sources such as antennas or by natural phenomena like lightning.

## 3. What is the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves?

The main difference between transverse and longitudinal waves is the direction of oscillation of the wave. In transverse waves, the oscillations are perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation, while in longitudinal waves, the oscillations are parallel to the direction of wave propagation.

## 4. Why are transverse electromagnetic waves important?

Transverse electromagnetic waves are important because they are used in various technologies, such as radio and television broadcasting, cell phones, and Wi-Fi. They also play a crucial role in communication and information transmission, making them essential in our modern society.

## 5. How do we detect transverse electromagnetic waves?

Transverse electromagnetic waves can be detected using a variety of instruments, such as antennas, receivers, and oscilloscopes. These devices are designed to pick up the electric and magnetic fields of the wave and convert them into a readable signal.

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