Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. These fields in turn underlie modern electrical and communications technologies.
Maxwell's equations have two major variants. The "microscopic" set of Maxwell's equations uses total charge and total current including the difficult-to-calculate atomic level charges and currents in materials. The "macroscopic" set of Maxwell's equations defines two new auxiliary fields that can sidestep having to know these 'atomic' sized charges and currents.
Maxwell's equations are named after the Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, since in an early form they are all found in a four-part paper, "On Physical Lines of Force", which he published between 1861 and 1862. The mathematical form of the Lorentz force law also appeared in this paper.
It is often useful to write Maxwell's equations in other forms; these representations are still formally termed "Maxwell's equations". A relativistic formulation in terms of covariant field tensors is used in special relativity, while in quantum mechanics, a version based on the electric and magnetic potentials is preferred.
While Maxwell's equations are consistent within special and general relativity, there are some quantum mechanical situations in which Maxwell's equations are significantly inaccurate: including extremely strong fields (see Euler–Heisenberg Lagrangian) and extremely short distances (see vacuum polarization). Moreover, various phenomena occur in the world even though Maxwell's equations predicts them to be impossible, such as "nonclassical light" and quantum entanglement of electromagnetic fields (see quantum optics). Finally, any phenomenon involving individual photons, such as the photoelectric effect, Planck's law, the Duane–Hunt law, single-photon light detectors, etc., would be difficult or impossible to explain if Maxwell's equations were exactly true, as Maxwell's equations do not involve photons. Maxwell's equations are usually an extremely accurate approximation to the more accurate theory of quantum electrodynamics.