Maxwell's macroscopic equations, the energy-momentum postulates, and the Lorentz law of force

Masud Mansuripur, Armis R. Zakharian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


We argue that the classical theory of electromagnetism is based on Maxwell's macroscopic equations, an energy postulate, a momentum postulate, and a generalized form of the Lorentz law of force. These seven postulates constitute the foundation of a complete and consistent theory, thus eliminating the need for actual (i.e., physical) models of polarization P and magnetization M, these being the distinguishing features of Maxwell's macroscopic equations. In the proposed formulation, P (r,t) and M (r,t) are arbitrary functions of space and time, their physical properties being embedded in the seven postulates of the theory. The postulates are self-consistent, comply with the requirements of the special theory of relativity, and satisfy the laws of conservation of energy, linear momentum, and angular momentum. One advantage of the proposed formulation is that it sidesteps the long-standing Abraham-Minkowski controversy surrounding the electromagnetic momentum inside a material medium by simply "assigning" the Abraham momentum density E (r,t) ×H (r,t) c2 to the electromagnetic field. This well-defined momentum is thus taken to be universal as it does not depend on whether the field is propagating or evanescent, and whether or not the host medium is homogeneous, transparent, isotropic, dispersive, magnetic, linear, etc. In other words, the local and instantaneous momentum density is uniquely and unambiguously specified at each and every point of the material system in terms of the E and H fields residing at that point. Any variation with time of the total electromagnetic momentum of a closed system results in a force exerted on the material media within the system in accordance with the generalized Lorentz law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number026608
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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