An Exploration of Electrical Theories: How Many Are There?

The study of electricity spans centuries, encompassing numerous theories and scientific breakthroughs. Journey with us through the key electrical theories that define our current understanding, from Maxwell’s foundational equations to the quantum intricacies of Superconductivity.

The study of electricity has been a pivotal part of the scientific landscape for centuries. With many of its phenomena explained through a range of electrical theories. However, the question “How many electrical theories are there?” might not have a definitive answer due to the complex and interrelated nature of scientific theories. However, this article will introduce you to several key theories that underpin our understanding of electricity today.

1. Classical Electromagnetic Theory

Developed in the mid-19th century, classical electromagnetic theory was a significant milestone in the understanding of electricity. The foundations laid by scientist James Clerk Maxwell who combined all known observations and laws about electricity and magnetism (like Coulomb’s Law, Ampere’s Law, and Faraday’s Law of Induction) into a unified theory, now known as Maxwell’s Equations. These equations describe how electric charges and currents produce electric and magnetic fields, and how they are affected by them. Maxwell’s theory is a classical field theory, describing phenomena on scales that are much larger than individual atoms or particles.

Classical and quantum electrical theory.

2. Quantum Electrodynamics (QED)

Quantum Electrodynamics is a quantum theory of electromagnetic interactions. Developed in the mid-20th century by scientists such as Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, QED provides a framework for understanding how light and matter interact. In this theory, electromagnetic forces are carried by particles called photons, and the interaction between electrically charged particles is seen as an exchange of these photons. This was a major leap forward in the field of quantum mechanics. Earning these scientists a shared Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

3. Circuit Theory

Circuit theory is a fundamental theory in electrical and electronic engineering. It uses simplified models to analyze and design electrical circuits, abstracting away many of the details of the physical world. Circuit theory is based on concepts such as Ohm’s Law, which states the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance. And Kirchhoff’s Laws, which describe how these quantities behave in electrical circuits. These laws help engineers design and understand complex electrical networks and systems.

4. Electromagnetic Wave Theory

A key part of Maxwell’s Equations is the prediction of electromagnetic waves, which include light, radio waves, microwaves, and X-rays. This theory explains how changing electric and magnetic fields propagate through space as waves. The electromagnetic wave theory has profound implications not only for the study of electricity but also for areas like optics, radio communications, and many other technologies that define our modern world.

5. Solid-State Physics

While not an “electrical theory” in the strict sense, solid-state physics provides crucial insights into how electricity behaves in solid materials, such as metals or semiconductors. This field of study includes theories like band theory, which explains how electrons move in solid materials, and quantum tunneling, which describes the quantum mechanical phenomenon where particles pass through potential barriers. These theories underpin our understanding of electronic devices, from simple resistors and capacitors to complex transistors and digital circuits.

6. Superconductivity

Superconductivity is a quantum mechanical phenomenon where a material, at very low temperatures, can conduct electric current with zero electrical resistance. This theory, developed in the 20th century, is a critical area of study in the field of condensed matter physics. The theory of superconductivity led to the development of technologies such as MRI scanners and high-speed maglev trains.

An MRI in the example of superconductivity electrical theory.


Electricity, a phenomenon we interact with daily, is guided by a range of theories that are intertwined with many aspects of physics. The question, “How many electrical theories are there?” does not have a simple answer. This is because our understanding of electricity is distributed across multiple theories, each relevant to different scales and phenomena. It’s essential to note that these theories do not stand alone but build upon each other, providing a comprehensive understanding of electricity at different levels, from tiny quantum particles to macroscopic electrical circuits and beyond. The ever-evolving landscape of electrical theory remains an exciting field of study, continuing to enlighten us about the workings of the natural world.

Enjoy learning about electricity?