It's my understanding that in electromagnetics, if an attenuating device is functioning linearly, it means that 1) input and output signal strengths are proportional; and 2) input f = output f. How accurate and complete is this definition?

It's also my understanding that an attenuating barrier can become non-linear in the presence of a high-strength EM field (e.g., 50 kV/m, 133 A/m). Why/how does this occur? What properties of the barrier material affect this (e.g., permitivity, permeability, ferromagnetic properties, etc.)?

It's also my understanding that non-linearity causes a barrier's attenuation to be enhanced or diminished by frequency, depending on the detail of the non-linearity. What is meant by "the detail of the non-linearity"? Why/how does non-linearity cause attenuation to be enhanced or diminished at a frequency? In other words, what material properties determine whether attenuation increases or decreases?

Actually, if the definition of linearity in the first paragraph above is okay, then I think I understand, at least partially, why non-linearity might cause attenuation to increase or decrease at a frequency. If the non-linearity involves a frequency shift, then attenuation would increase at the input frequency and decrease at the output frequency. If the non-linearity involves a change in the proportionality of input and output signal strengths, then depending on how the proportion changes, attenuation would be increased or decreased. Do I have this right?

This is a rewrite of this question, which was titled and worded poorly. Selvek's answer was helpful, though. I would have asked him for clarification, but it didn't seem to make sense to contribute further to an unclear question that misses what I had intended to ask and that's inviting down votes. So, re-asking seemed a good solution. Apologies if this isn't correct procedure. I'm new here. I did reach out for help from a moderator, but I haven't received a reply yet.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Waveform is also identical" is wrong. A sine wave at a fixed frequency will look the same (ignoring amplitude) but it may be phase shifted. More complex waveforms may look very different, because the amplitude may be different for different frequencies. Consider a square wave through an RC low pass filter. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2018 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @spehro, thanks for that clarification. Would it be more correct to say that in a linear device, complex waveforms are identical? \$\endgroup\$
    – dcorsello
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @spehro, actually would you please clarify? Could you provide a better definition of linearity? \$\endgroup\$
    – dcorsello
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Only sine waves come out with the same shape, in general. Look up the definition of LTI (Linear Time Invariant). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2018 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @spehro, Ah, sorry. Nevermind. I understand what you mean. I'll remove point 3 from my definition in para 1. THanks again. \$\endgroup\$
    – dcorsello
    Mar 2, 2018 at 19:40

1 Answer 1


Non-linear material properties are wide ranging and depends on the purpose.

For magnetic fields, ferrite, cobalt etc are all linear until they start to saturate then the "mu" coefficent (permeability) can drop to a low slope value. This would look like this. enter image description here

This one is steep when linear and flat equivalent to air (mu=1) when saturated.

enter image description here

If mu is high = 10k and drops to 1 then it is pretty significant reduction in inductance and shielding effects become transparent.. But in reality this would require a very high H field like a nuclear blast. So then you need lower mu materials that dont saturate so easily like thick wet concrete walls.

It all depends on the application.

There are lots of other non-linear properties such as rise time and aperture effect of a waveguide with 1/4 wavelength impedance inversion effects.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for a great answer. So from this graph, it looks to me like tungsten steel, magnet steel, cast iron and cobalt are about equal in their tendency to remain relatively linear in a high H field. Is that right? \$\endgroup\$
    – dcorsello
    Mar 2, 2018 at 21:57

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