Taflove Discusses Maxwell in Nature Photonics

The journal celebrates 150th anniversary of Maxwell’s equations

One-hundred fifty years ago, mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell brought together electricity, magnetism, and light to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation. With these new equations, Maxwell ushered in new possibilities for physicists and forever changed the field.

In the January 2015 issue of Nature Photonics, Allen Taflove discussed the impact and importance of Maxwell’s equations. Known as the father of finite-difference time-domain technique, Taflove’s interview is one of multiple articles celebrating the anniversary of Maxwell’s equations and the importance of optics.

Allen Taflove“To this day [Maxwell’s] achievement remains the physical basis of much of the electro-technology that separates our society from that of the nineteenth century,” said Taflove, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.

Taflove began working with Maxwell’s equations during a 1972 graduate seminar course in bioelectromagnetics with the late Northwestern professor Morris Brodwin. Brodwin challenged the class to develop a computational model of the interaction of microwaves with the human eye, a topic that interested him after learning about World War II soldiers who were blinded after exposure to high-power radars. Taflove’s research in the class became the basis for his thesis and ultimately led him to coin “finite-difference time-domain,” a numerical analysis technique used for computational electrodynamics.

While Maxwell’s equations have made a personal impact on Taflove’s past and present career, he continues to look to the questions it might address in the future.

“I’m excited by the prospect of self-consistently linking the time-domain Maxwell’s equations to quantum electrodynamics in a computationally efficient manner,” Taflove said. “Nature does this every attosecond—can we emulate that?”

Read Taflove’s full interview with Nature Photonics.