Guide to Frequency Domain Wave Electromagnetics Modeling

Walter Frei June 30, 2015
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Over the last several weeks, we’ve published a series of blog posts addressing the various domain and boundary conditions available for wave electromagnetics simulation in the frequency domain; as well as modeling, meshing, and solving options. In this blog post, I will tie all of this information together and provide an introduction to the various types of problems that you can solve in the RF and Wave Optics modules.

In Which Regime Is Frequency Domain Wave Electromagnetics Modeling Appropriate?

Whenever we want to solve a modeling problem involving Maxwell’s equations under the assumption that:

  • All material properties are constant with respect to field strength
  • and

  • That the fields will change sinusoidally in time at a known frequency or range of frequencies

we can treat the problem as Frequency Domain. When the electromagnetic field solutions are wave-like, such as for resonant structures, radiating structures, or any problem where the effective wavelength is comparable to the sizes of the objects we are working with, then the problem can be treated as a wave electromagnetic problem.

COMSOL Multiphysics has a dedicated physics interface for this type of modeling — the Electromagnetic Waves, Frequency Domain interface. Available in the RF and Wave Optics modules, it uses the finite element method to solve the frequency domain form of Maxwell’s equations. Here’s a guide for when to use this interface:

An image showing which regimes use the Electromagnetic Waves, Frequency Domain interface in COMSOL Multiphysics.

The wave electromagnetic modeling approach is valid in the regime where the object sizes range from approximately \lambda/100 to 10 \lambda, regardless of the absolute frequency. Below this size, the Low Frequency regime is appropriate. In the Low Frequency regime, the object will not be acting as an antenna or resonant structure. If you want to build models in this regime, there are several different modules and interfaces that you could use. For details, please see this blog post.

The upper limit of \sim 10 \lambda comes from the memory requirements for solving large 3D models. Once your modeling domain size is greater than \sim 10\lambda in each direction, corresponding to a domain size of (10\lambda)^3 or 1000 cubic wavelengths, you will start to need significant computational resources to solve your models. For more details about this, please see this previous blog post. On the other hand, 2D models have far more modest memory requirements and can solve much larger problems.

For problems where the objects being modeled are much larger than the wavelength, there are two options:

  1. The beam envelopes formulation is appropriate if the device being simulated has relatively gradual variations in the structure — and magnitude of the electromagnetic fields — in the direction of beam propagation compared to the transverse directions. For details about this, please see this post.
  2. The Ray Optics Module formulation treats light as rays rather than waves. In terms of the above plot, there is a wide region of overlap between these two regimes. For an introduction to the ray optics approach, please see our introduction to the Ray Optics Module.

If you are interested in X-ray frequencies and above, then the electromagnetic wave will interact with and scatter from the atomic lattice of materials. This type of scattering is not appropriate to model with the wave electromagnetics approach, since it is assumed that within each modeling domain the material can be treated as a continuum.

What Kinds of Frequency Domain Wave Electromagnetics Problems Can You Solve with COMSOL Multiphysics?

So now that we understand what is meant by wave electromagnetics problems, let’s further classify the most common application areas of the Electromagnetic Waves, Frequency Domain interface and look at some examples of its usage. We will only look at a few representative examples here that are good starting points for learning the software. These applications are selected from the RF Module Application Library and online Application Gallery and the Wave Optics Module Application Library, as well as online.


An antenna is any device that radiates electromagnetic radiation for the purposes of signal (and sometimes power) transmission. There is an almost infinite number of ways to construct an antenna, but one of the simplest is a dipole antenna. On the other hand, a patch antenna is more compact and used in many applications. Quantities of interest include the S-parameters, antenna impedance, losses, and far-field patterns, as well as the interactions of the radiated fields with any surrounding structures, as seen in our Car Windshield Antenna Effect on a Cable Harness tutorial model.

Waveguides and Transmission Lines

Whereas an antenna radiates into free space, waveguides and transmission lines guide the electromagnetic wave along a predefined path. It is possible to compute the impedance of transmission lines and the propagation constants and S-parameters of both microwave and optical waveguides.

Resonant Structures

Rather than transmitting energy, a resonant cavity is a structure designed to store electromagnetic energy of a particular frequency within a small space. Such structures can be either closed cavities, such as a metallic enclosure, or an open structure like an RF coil or Fabry-Perot cavity. Quantities of interest include the resonant frequency and the Q-factor.

Couplers and Filters

Conceptually speaking, the combination of a waveguide with a resonant structure results in a filter or coupler. Filters are meant to either prevent or allow certain frequencies propagating through a structure and couplers are meant to allow certain frequencies to pass from one waveguide to another. A microwave filter can be as simple as a series of connected rectangular cavities, as seen in our Waveguide Iris Bandpass Filter tutorial model.

Scattering Problems

A scattering problem can be thought of as the opposite of an antenna problem. Rather than finding the radiated field from an object, an object is modeled in a background field coming from a source outside of the modeling domain. The far-field scattering of the electromagnetic wave by the object is computed, as demonstrated in the benchmark example of a perfectly conducting sphere in a plane wave.

Periodic Structures

Some electromagnetics problems can be greatly simplified in complexity if it can be assumed that the structure is quasi-infinite. For example, it is possible to compute the band structure of a photonic crystal by considering a single unit cell. Structures that are periodic in one or two directions such as gratings and frequency selective surfaces can also be analyzed for their reflection and transmission.

Electromagnetic Heating

Whenever there is a significant amount of power transmitted via radiation, any object that interacts with the electromagnetic waves can heat up. The microwave oven in your kitchen is a perfect example of where you would need to model the coupling between electromagnetic fields and heat transfer. Another good introductory example is RF heating, where the transient temperature rises and temperature-dependent material properties are considered.

Ferrimagnetic Devices

Applying a large DC magnetic bias to a ferrimagnetic material results in a relative permeability that is anisotropic for small (with respect to the DC bias) AC fields. Such materials can be used in microwave circulators. The nonreciprocal behavior of the material provides isolation.

Summary of the Types of Frequency Domain Wave Electromagnetics Modeling

You should now have a general overview of the capabilities and applications of the RF and Wave Optics modules for frequency domain wave electromagnetics problems. The examples listed above, as well as the other examples in the Application Gallery, are a great starting point for learning to use the software, since they come with documentation and step-by-step modeling instructions.

Please also keep in mind that the RF and Wave Optics modules also include other functionality and formulations not described here, including transient electromagnetic wave interfaces for modeling of material nonlinearities, such as second harmonic generation and modeling of signal propagation time. The RF Module additionally includes a circuit modeling tool for connecting a finite element model of a system to a circuit model, as well as an interface for modeling the transmission line equations.

As you delve deeper into COMSOL Multiphysics and wave electromagnetics modeling, please also read our other blog posts on meshing and solving options; various material models that you are able to use; as well as the boundary conditions available for modeling metallic objects, waveguide ports, and open boundaries. These posts will provide you with the foundation you need to model wave electromagnetics problems with confidence.

If you have any questions about the capabilities of using COMSOL Multiphysics for wave electromagnetics and how it can be used for your modeling needs, please contact us.

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