Definitions

electromagnetic force

electromagnetic force

One of the four known basic forces in the universe. Electromagnetism is responsible for interactions between charged particles that occur because of their charge, and for the emission and absorption of photons (electromagnetic radiation). The phenomena of electricity and magnetism are consequences of this force, and the relationships between them were first described by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s. The physical description of electromagnetism has since been combined with quantum mechanics into the theory of quantum electrodynamics. The electromagnetic force is about 1036 times as strong as the gravitational force (see gravitation), but significantly weaker than both the weak force and the strong force.

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In physics, the electromagnetic force is the force that the electromagnetic field exerts on electrically charged particles. It is the electromagnetic force that holds electrons and protons together in atoms, and which hold atoms together to make molecules. The electromagnetic force operates via the exchange of messenger particles called photons and virtual photons. The exchange of messenger particles between bodies acts to create the perceptual force whereby instead of just pushing or pulling particles apart, the exchange changes the character of the particles that swap them.

History

Originally, electricity and magnetism were thought of as two separate forces. This view changed, however, with the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's 1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in which the interactions of positive and negative charges were shown to be regulated by one force. There are four main effects resulting from these interactions, which have been clearly demonstrated by experiment:

  1. Electric charges attract or repel one another with a force inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them: unlike charges attract, like ones repel.
  2. Magnetic poles (or states of polarization at individual points) attract or repel one another in a similar way and always come in pairs: every north pole is yoked to a south pole.
  3. An electric current in a wire creates a circular magnetic field around the wire, its direction depending on that of the current.
  4. A current is induced in a loop of wire when it is moved towards or away from a magnetic field, or a magnet is moved towards or away from it, the direction of current depending on that of the movement.

It is not the electromagnetic force but rather the strong nuclear force that holds together the nucleus of an atom.

Overview

The electromagnetic force is one of the four fundamental forces. The other fundamental forces are: the strong nuclear force (which holds quarks together, along with its residual strong force effect that holds atomic nuclei together to form the nucleus), the weak nuclear force (which causes certain forms of radioactive decay), and the gravitational force. All other forces are ultimately derived from these fundamental forces.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be traced to the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged protons and electrons inside the atoms. This includes the forces we experience in "pushing" or "pulling" ordinary material objects, which come from the intermolecular forces between the individual molecules in our bodies and those in the objects. It also includes all forms of chemical phenomena, which arise from interactions between electron orbitals.

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