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What's up E&M?

  1. Nov 6, 2013 #1

    kosovo dave

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    So I'm a physics major in my second semester of undergrad physics and have been completely blown away by electricity and magnetism. The stuff just amazes me.

    So I was wondering what the current hot topics of E&M are. What are the unanswered questions? What kind of things would I be studying/researching if I followed the E&M path?

    I know this is a pretty broad question but I was wondering what those of you in the field had to say about it. What kind of stuff are you working on?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2013 #2
    E&M is a subject. Most fields in physics heavily use it. Condensed matter, optics, high energy, cosmology, biophysics... Probably all research fields use it.

    Remember that the subjects you learn in your undergrad are not quite research fields. The basic subjects of physics are quantum, E&M, stat. mech, classical mech. There is general relativity too, but that kind of sticks out since its not a part of most research (nor is it a part of most physics curriculums).

    As far as unanswered questions go, perhaps E&M has the least amount of unanswered questions of all theories in physics. Particularly if you consider the quantum version of E&M, QED. It is said that QED has the most powerful predictive ability of all scientific theories. Of course the famous unanswered question is how to reconcile this theory with gravity. But many details of E&M are being investigated in all the fields of physics.

    Check out the book "QED" by Feynman. Its a great pop physics book.

    Edit- Not sure how familiar you are with relativity. But at some point when you are, you would probably be interested in the connections between E&M and relativity. Check out this thread,
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  4. Nov 6, 2013 #3


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    Example: http://physics.aps.org/synopsis-for/10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.150404

    Also note that E&M is THE major topic in fields such as Accelerator Physics.

  5. Nov 6, 2013 #4


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  6. Nov 6, 2013 #5


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    I too fell in love with E&M during second semester physics, which is why I majored in electrical engineering. Engineers are not working on anything fundamental the same way that most physicists do, but they do use electromagnetic theory in a wide variety of interesting ways.

    Here are a couple of links to particularly electromagnetics research in a couple of the strongest departments:
    http://electroscience.osu.edu/9219.cfm [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Nov 6, 2013 #6

    Jano L.

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    I do not know if you can study something like pure E&M path at a physics study programme. It is more likely you would be able to do that in an engineering study programme, e.g. electrical engineering.

    It is hard to give a complex view of current research, so just a few incoherent thoughts that come to mind :

    Unanswered questions? Many, but it is best you find your own during your study. Sometimes the best question to study is about something everybody thinks is known perfectly and does not need further study.

    Current topics for research?

    On a more engineering side, stuff like design of microwave antennae (cellphones), electron microscopes, particle accelerators - acceleration cavities use EM theory much.

    I physics, large field is the behaviour of plasma, in laboratory (research on controlled fusion in hot plasma - how to make fusion work at a power plant ?), in atmosphere and outer space (physics of atmosphere - how is it possible the corona is so hot? solar physics, solar wind, etc). There is much EM in geophysics too - how does Earth's magnetic field come about ?

    The above do not use quantum notions much; largely based on kinetic theory, hydrodynamics and EM.

    More towards theoretical physics, there is the research on superconductors, where magnetic fields play great role; much quantum theory of fields, and computer computations (it is said nobody knows how modern superconductors work at those high temperatures).

    On a very theoretical side, there is has been (very interesting I think) effort of some theorists in the past decades to extend classical EM theory to microscopic domain and throw light on phenomena like thermal radiation spectrum, van der Waals forces & Casimir forces and stability of atoms, with help of stochastic methods (stochastic electrodynamics) as an alternative to standard quantum theory. This had some successes, but still has many limitations and open questions and thus is still rather minor effort on the fringes of research.
  8. Nov 6, 2013 #7

    kosovo dave

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    Wow, thanks guys! You've given me a lot of cool sounding topics to look into.
  9. Nov 8, 2013 #8
    You could also look into plasma physics and solar/space/astrophysics. Anything with a plasma in it is going to make heavy use of E&M, and quite a lot of your day can be spent thinking how magnetic fields behave. For what it's worth, it's mostly classical in nature.
  10. Nov 19, 2013 #9

    Meir Achuz

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    E & M is used in all fields of physics. It is probably your first encounter with real physics, rather than the baby physics you have had until now. If you love E&M, I think you will also love most other modern physics.
    Wait until your first year of grad school to decide the exact field. Just go to a grad school with lots of options.
  11. Nov 20, 2013 #10
    This is what I was going to comment on. There is a TON of research on the topics. Wakefields (dielectric or plasma), free-electron laser radiation sources, bunch generation from cathodes... the list goes on. There's also a lot of numerical methods and modeling for E&M, as models can be extraordinarily complicated and computationally intensive. If each particle emits radiation, then the number of calculations that needs to be done goes as the number of particles squared. An electron bunch in a particle accelerator can have tens of billions of electrons. So models need to be developed to simplify the calculations while still being accurate.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  12. Nov 20, 2013 #11

    Jano L.

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    Interesting. Could you give some links to websites of research groups that are involved with similar topics? I am interested in similar questions, especially many-particle radiating systems. Can you recommend some articles/books for this area?
  13. Nov 29, 2013 #12
    How long is a piece of string, in a big ball of string. Here's something else, something I explored, before I left the field ('scuse pun):


    Nice to see you get such a buzz out of E&M. What blew you away the most?
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