Electromagnetic energy momentum in dispersive media

T. G. Philbin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The standard derivations of electromagnetic energy and momentum in media take Maxwell's equations as the starting point. It is well known that for dispersive media this approach does not directly yield exact expressions for the energy and momentum densities. Although Maxwell's equations fully describe electromagnetic fields, the general approach to conserved quantities in field theory is not based on the field equations, but rather on the action. Here an action principle for macroscopic electromagnetism in dispersive, lossless media is used to derive the exact conserved energy-momentum tensor. The time-averaged energy density reduces to Brillouin's simple formula when the fields are monochromatic. The time-averaged momentum density for monochromatic fields corresponds to the familiar Minkowski expression D x B, but for general fields in dispersive media the momentum density does not have the Minkowski value. The results are unaffected by the debate over momentum balance in light-matter interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages6
JournalPhysical Review. A, Atomic, molecular, and optical physics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Electromagnetic energy momentum in dispersive media'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this