James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

James Clerk Maxwell

3 The Ampère–Maxwell law

3.1 Limitations of Ampère's law

In order to analyse the limitations of Ampère's law, and suggest ways of overcoming them, we need to use some properties of divergence. For ease of reference, these properties are given below:

Some properties of divergence

  1. The divergence of any curl is equal to zero:

  2. A constant k can be taken outside a divergence:

  3. A time derivative can be taken outside a divergence:

You can take these properties on trust if you wish, but it is easy enough to prove them by expanding both sides in Cartesian coordinates.


Prove Equation 7.5.


Expanding the left-hand side of Equation 7.5 gives

which vanishes because mixed partial derivatives do not depend on the order of partial differentiation.

Now let's examine the differential version of Ampère's law, which states that

The limitations of this law are revealed by taking the divergence of both sides. This gives

The divergence of any curl is equal to zero so, using Equation 7.6 and the equation of continuity, we have

We therefore see that Ampère's law requires the charge density to remain constant. Put another way:

Ampère's law fails when the charge density changes in time.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus