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On the Transfer of Energy in the Electromagnetic Field.


By J. H. Poynting, M.A., late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Professor of Physics, Mason College, Birmingham.


Communicated by Lord Rayleigh, M.A., D.C.L., F.R.S.


Received December 17, 1883, — Read January 10, 1884.


A space containing electric currents may be regarded as a field where energy is transformed at certain points into the electric and magnetic kinds by means of batteries, dynamos, thermoelectric actions, and so on, while in other parts of the field this energy is again transformed into heat, work done by electromagnetic forces, or any form of energy yielded by currents. Formerly a current was regarded as something travelling along a conductor, attention being chiefly directed to the conductor, and the energy which appeared at any part of the circuit, if considered at all, was supposed to be conveyed thither through the conductor by the current. But the existence of induced currents and of electromagnetic actions at a distance from a primary circuit from which they draw their energy has led us, under the guidance of Faraday and Maxwell, to look upon the medium surrounding the conductor as playing a very important part in the development of the phenomena. If we believe in the continuity of the motion of energy, that is, if we believe that when it disappears at one point and reappears at another it must have passed through the intervening space, we are forced to conclude that the surrounding medium contains at least a part of the energy, and that it is capable of transferring it from point to point.

Upon this basis Maxwell has investigated what energy is contained in the medium, and he has given expressions which assign to each part of the field a quantity of energy depending on the electromotive and magnetic intensities and on the nature of the matter at that part in regard to its specific inductive capacity and magnetic permeability. These expressions account, as far as we know, for the whole energy. According to Maxwell's theory, currents consist essentially in a certain distribution of energy in and around a conductor, accompanied by transformation and consequent movement of energy through the field.

Starting with Maxwell's theory, we are naturally led to consider the problem: How does the energy about an electric current pass from point to point — that is, by what paths and according to what law does it travel from the part of the circuit where