Part 12: Electromagnetic Fields and Momentum

Last week, we considered energy conservation of electromagnetic fields, and found the continuity equation, which told us that the Poynting vector gives the flow of energy in electromagnetic fields.

Now, let us consider linear momentum. Since electric and magnetic fields exert forces on charged particles, they change the momentum of these particles; therefore, momentum conservation means that the fields must themselves carry momentum. The total momentum in a volume is then the sum of the total mechanical momentum of the charged particles in that volume, , and the total momentum of the electromagnetic fields in the volume, . This sum, , must then obey a continuity equation; as momentum is conserved, the time change in this quantity is entirely due to the flux out of the volume.

The standard (differential form) continuity equation is

,

where **v** is the flux of the quantity *φ*. When *φ* is a scalar, **v** is a vector quantity, as the flow has both magnitude and direction. However, momentum is a vector quantity. So, letting **P*** _{tot}* be the momentum density, the flux is not a vector, but a rank-two tensor. The component

*G*of this tensor represents the flux of the

_{ij}*i*th component of electromagnetic momentum in the

*j*direction. For reasons similar to those for the mechanical stress tensor, this tensor must be symmetric:

*G*=

_{ij}*G*, so we have six independent components.

_{ji}Thus, for a volume

*V*bounded by surface

*S*with outward normal , we have

,

where is the vector whose

*i*th component is (the rank-two tensor acts as a function mapping vectors to vectors, here applied to ). Splitting the momentum into mechanical and electromagnetic components,

.

Now, let us consider the change in mechanical momentum. The force on a particle with charge

*q*is . The total change in momentum for the particles in a volume is the sum of the forces on the particles; for discrete charges

*q*, this is

_{i};

converting to a continuous charge distribution, we have , , and the sum becomes a volume integral:

.

Now, we can use Maxwell’s laws to eliminate the charge and current densities in favor of the fields. From Gauss’ Law, ; and from Ampère’s Law, .

Thus,

.

Now, the product rule for the partial derivative of the cross product tells us

,

so

,

and we have

.

Now, Faraday’s Law tells us , so we have

.

Or, using , then

,

so

.

Note the near symmetry between the electric term and the magnetic term . Note, however, the term to make them symmetric would be , but since , this term is zero, and may be freely added:

so

. Thus, we have

.

Now, the product rule for the gradient of a dot product is

.

Letting

**a**=

**b**,

,

so

.

Thus,

.

Examining the components,

and

.

Adding these,

.

And since

So, using the Kronecker delta , we have

.

This is the

*i*th component of the divergence of the tensor with components . Thus, we define the tensor with components

. This is called the Maxwell stress tensor. Then, we have

.

Note that has units of momentum flow per area, or momentum/(area)(time), which is equivalent to force/area, the units of stress; hence the name Maxwell stress tensor.

So, we then identify the term as the time derivative of the electromagnetic momentum in the volume. We then see the electromagnetic momentum density is ; the momentum density is parallel and proportional to the energy flux density with proportionality constant . We thus see that the momentum flux density tensor of electromagnetic fields is

. Thus, if is the mechanical momentum density, then the differential continuity equation for electromagnetic momentum is

.

Or, using the integral form

,

and applying the divergence theorem,

.

Note that the flux per unit area of momentum across the surface

*S*, is the force per unit area transmitted across the surface

*S*and acting on the fields and particles within

*V*, and is , which has

*i*th component

. One can thus consider the force on a material object in electromgnetic fields by considering a boundary surface

*S*enclosing the object, and integrating up the total force via .

[Within dielectric media, the issue of momentum of the electromagnetic fields is more complicated; see the Abraham–Minkowski controversy.]

Tags: Conservation of Momentum, Electricity & Magnetism, Friday Physics, Maxwell Stress Tensor, Maxwell's Laws, Momentum, physics, Poynting Vector, Tensor

August 27, 2010 at 12:43 am |

[…] Friday 133 By twistedone151 Part 13: Electromagnetic FIelds and Angular Momentum Last week, we considered momentum conservation in electromagnetism, finding that the momentum density is […]

September 24, 2010 at 12:26 am |

[…] and magnetic fields , with . Let us now compute the Maxwell stress tensor . As you may recall from here, the components of this symmetric (Cartesian) tensor are given by . First, we recognise that . […]

November 27, 2010 at 5:06 pm |

there are several missing in the derivatives …

November 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm |

Thanks. I missed that.