1048 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEThe Myth of Cell Phone RadiationVasant NatarajanKeywordsCell phone radiati...
1049RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEto intensity. These observations were inexplicable fromthe classical wave pi...
1050 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEadd. Similarly, if you could leap a distance of 10 ft, youcould jump acros...
1051RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEcally 1000 W/m2, while that at the base of a cell phonetower is ten thousand...
1052 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEsu®er no ill e®ects at all { apart from the occasionalsore back that comes...
1053RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEgovernment is passing legislation that will set lower per-missible radiation...
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The Myth of Cell Phone Radiation


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We discuss the purported link between cell phone
radiation and cancer. We show that it is inconsistent with the photoelectric effect, and that epidemiological studies of any link have no scientific basis. Read this doc to know more.

Published in: Technology, Business
  • Hi Ayantika
    I am interested to know about blood brain barrier weakening due to microwave radiation. I am trying to get hold of research papers /other publications relating to this aspect. my email address is thiruvidai67@gmail.com. Can you send me an email so we can get connected and take this forward please. thank you. Balaji
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  • Ayantika Sen if you really belive in this what you say i sad for you. Your life is a fear. Simple task look at denmark(longer and excesive use phone) they do study at 350.000 people and what they find ? nothing. Look who starts all of this panic people who sells radiation protection. I know you can give me links to research who show health risk but to your one study i can give ten which negate the credibility of yours.
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  • Is this person out of his mind? Does he live on another planet? It has been conclusively proved that microwave radiation even in very low doses weakens the Blood Brain Barrier causing neurotoxic albumin to leak into the brain. Microwave radiation causes DNA damage and this knowledge has been in the public domain for quite some time now. To claim otherwise is not only a humongous lie but also a great disservice to science. Is this man Natarajan a complete hack like that worthless K S Parathasarathy who often quotes the disgraced Mike Repacholi as his reference? Has he done any research on the biological effect microwaves? His only field of expertise seems to be Einstein's Photoelectric Effect which even a 12th grader knows and he is simply not qualified to comment on a matter as serious as this. Period!
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The Myth of Cell Phone Radiation

  1. 1. 1048 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEThe Myth of Cell Phone RadiationVasant NatarajanKeywordsCell phone radiation, photoelec-tric effect, cancer.Vasant Natarajan is at theDepartment of Physics,Indian Institute of Science.He has been a lifelong fanof Einstein. It gives himimmense pleasure to beable to start an article withthe name of his idol.www.physics.iisc.ernet.in/~vasant1See, for example, the article‘Einstein’s Miraculous Year’ byNatarajan, Venkataraman, andMukunda, Resonance, pp.35–36, March 2005.We discuss the purported link between cell phoneradiation and cancer. We show that it is inconsis-tent with the photoelectric e®ect, and that epi-demiological studies of any link have no scienti¯cbasis.Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist in thehistory of mankind, won the Nobel Prize not for his workon Relativity but for his explanation of the Photoelec-tric E®ect. Why was this considered so important, somuch so that Einstein himself remarked that it was themost revolutionary contribution in his Annus Mirabilis1?Because it was the ¯rst independent con¯rmation of thephoton concept introduced by Planck a few years earlier.The photon concept itself was radically di®erent fromany thing we understood earlier about light, which wasknown to be an electromagnetic wave with frequencyº and wavelength ¸ traveling at a speed c, because itstated that light came in quantized packets of energyhº, where h is the new constant that Planck introduced.Unlike a classical wave which could have any (continu-ous) amount of energy, the light wave could only carryenergy which was an integer multiple of a fundamentaldiscrete unit.The photoelectric e®ect is the phenomenon where lightincident on a metal (or some other surface) causes elec-trons to be emitted. It had been studied for quite sometime before Einstein came along, and experiments hadshown that photoelectrons were emitted only if the inci-dent light had a frequency above a threshold level inde-pendent of the intensity. But the number of photoelec-trons produced above threshold was indeed proportional
  2. 2. 1049RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEto intensity. These observations were inexplicable fromthe classical wave picture of light. Assuming that therewas a threshold energy (now called the work function)that had to be overcome before electrons were emitted,one could always reach this requirement for a classicalwave by suitably cranking up the intensity. But the ex-periments showed otherwise.Enter Einstein and the photon picture. With the ideasthat the energy per photon is quantized in units of itsfrequency, and that one needs a single photon with suf-¯cient energy to produce a photoelectron, it is simpleto see that there would be a threshold frequency forthe e®ect. In addition, the number of photoelectronswould be proportional to the number of photons in theEM ¯eld, or its total energy. Thus, Einstein could ex-plain all the observations of the photoelectric e®ect withthe reasonable assumption that the transition involvedin emitting an electron is mediated by one photon ofsuitable energy. It is reasonable because the transitionis from one energy level where the electron is bound toanother energy level where the electron is free. Thereare no other levels in between, which if present couldbe used as `stepping stones. This explanation is so el-egant and simple to understand that it is presented tohigh-school students in textbooks today. But let us notforget how radical it was when it was ¯rst proposed 100years ago. And how much of a departure from the ac-cepted notions about light. No wonder, only a geniuslike Einstein could make this leap.This is now our accepted understanding of all bond-breaking processes. Every such process involves a transi-tion with a single photon of su±cient frequency (or en-ergy), and a million photons of sub-threshold frequencycannot cause the transition. Or a billion. Think of it likethis. If you had a cannon that could shoot a cannonballto a distance of 1 km, 10 cannons will not allow you tohit a target that is 10 km away. Cannon ranges do notWith the ideas thatthe energy perphoton is quantizedin units of itsfrequency, and thatone needs a singlephoton with sufficientenergy to produce aphotoelectron, it issimple to see thatthere would be athreshold frequencyfor the photo electriceffect.If you had a cannonthat could shoot acannonball to adistance of 1 km, 10cannons will not allowyou to hit a target thatis 10 km away.
  3. 3. 1050 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEadd. Similarly, if you could leap a distance of 10 ft, youcould jump across a stream that was 10 ft wide. But 9additional people with the same ability cannot help youcross a 100-ft wide stream.Which brings to the question of cell phone radiationand their purported link to cancer. Cancer is known tobe caused by mutations in the cell-division machinery {a clear bond-breaking process { which results in uncon-trolled multiplication of the cells. X-rays are well knownto cause such mutations, which is why X-ray techniciansare required to wear lead aprons. UV rays from the sun,those which are not stopped by the ozone layer, cancause skin cancers in people who do not have enoughpigmentation to block them. That is why fair-skinnedpeople have to use UV-blocking creams before going outinto the sun. But visible light cannot cause such muta-tions. It is sub-threshold. And so is any EM wave whosefrequency is smaller { such as infrared, microwave, radiowaves, and the typical waves (» 900 MHz) used for cellphones2. This means that the cell-phone photons (andI use the word `photon to represent any quantized EM¯eld) do not have enough energy to cause a mutationin your DNA. Period. No matter what their power is {increasing their power will increase the number of pho-tons, but they will all be below the threshold for causingcancer. They do not have enough energy to break a bondand cause a mutation. If you live next to a cell-phonetransmission tower, the power levels will be higher thanif you just used a cell phone, but you can be sure thatall the photons are harmless.And yes, if you give enough photons of sub-thresholdfrequency, you can heat a substance, i.e. increase theirvibrational energy. This is why you feel hot when yougo out into the sun. The visible and infrared photonscannot cause cancer but can heat up your body. Butthis happens because the power density from the sunreceived on the earth (called the `insolation) is typi-2For a complete listing of GSMcell phone frequencies by coun-try, seehttp://allworldcellphones.com/gsm-frequencies-list.htmCancer is known tobe caused bymutations in the cell-divisionmachinerywhich results inuncontrolledmultiplication of thecells.If you live next to acell-phone transm-ission tower, thepower levels will behigher than if youjust used a cellphone, but you canbe sure that all thephotons areharmless.
  4. 4. 1051RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEcally 1000 W/m2, while that at the base of a cell phonetower is ten thousand times smaller at about 0.1 W/m2.No wonder you do not feel hot when you stand next toa cell phone tower. And this is exactly how a microwaveoven works. It heats up the food inside by bombard-ing it with microwave photons. These photons have atypical frequency of 2.45 GHz, or 2.5 times that of cellphones. And the power level inside the oven requiredfor it to work is about 700 W. A small fraction of thispower makes it outside the oven, but nobody worriesabout it because the photons are harmless. Otherwise,microwave ovens would not be so commonly used today.Despite the knowledge that cell phone radiation is harm-less, organizations like the WHO want to play it safe andwant to base their recommendations on epidemiologicalstudies" { studies that compare the prevalence of can-cer or other health indicators between cell phone usersand nonusers. This is because there are scare-mongerswho play on the fears of gullible poorly-informed peopleand claim that there is scienti¯cally documented proofof such harmful e®ects. There was a similar unscienti¯cclaim of the hazards posed by electrical power trans-mission lines in the 80s and 90s. Power lines oper-ate at a very low frequency of 50 Hz (a million timessmaller than cell phone frequencies), but have muchhigher power densities. The hue and cry died down onlyafter every single epidemiological study found no linkbetween power lines and overall health, let alone cancer.Not unexpected, because there is no scienti¯c basis forsuch a link to exist. But scientists and doctors have towaste their precious time on such studies because thelay person will be satis¯ed only after these studies arecompleted.Similar mischief-mongers told us that the radiation fromcomputer monitors was a health risk, and then made akilling by selling `radiation ¯lters to block these rays.But most of us sit in front of a computer all day, andThis is exactly howa microwave ovenworks. It heats upthe food inside bybombarding it withmicrowavephotons.Organizationslikethe WHO want toplay it safe and wantto base theirrecommendationson“epidemiologicalstudies” – studiesthat compare theprevalence of canceror other healthindicators betweencell phone users andnonusers.
  5. 5. 1052 RESONANCE November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEsu®er no ill e®ects at all { apart from the occasionalsore back that comes from bad posture and not radi-ation! They will give anecdotal evidence that someonewho developed brain cancer was always talking on thecell phone", and therefore the radiation from the cellphone caused the cancer. This is a well-known logicalfallacy called post hoc ergo procto hoc, meaning that justbecause A follows B does not mean that A was causedby B. This is not a lesson in logic, but to establish cau-sation the very least one must show is that no B alsoimplies no A. And this is exactly what epidemiologicalstudies do, they see if there is a statistically signi¯cantcorrelation (by studying a large number of people andnot just one or two) between cell phone usage and theprevalence of cancer, and which is convincing enough toestablish causation. And none has been found so far.And none will be, believe me.In any case, all of us (cell phone users) are unwittinglypart of the largest epidemiological study ever under-taken in the history of mankind. The total number ofcell phone users in the world is now an unprecedented80% of the population, up by a factor of 1000 from 20years ago. Everyone from a poor farmer in a village inAfrica to a rich businessman in Europe uses one. Butthere is no correspondingly large increase in the preva-lence of those kinds of cancers which could be caused bycell phones (like brain tumors) during that time. Dontyou think that any ill e®ects of cell phones would haveshown up by now in the billions of users worldwide?We should indeed worry that our modern industrializedworld is full of carcinogens { from pesticides in the foodwe eat, to industrial pollutants in our air and water.But cell phone radiation is not one of them.Stop PressAs I ¯nish this article, there is a front-page story in to-days Hindu (Tuesday, August 28, 2012) about how theThey will giveanecdotal evidencethat someone whodevelopedbraincancer “was alwaystalking on the cellphone”, and thereforethe radiation from thecell phone caused thecancer. This is a well-known logical fallacycalled post hoc ergoprocto hoc, meaningthat just because Afollows B does notmean that A wascaused by B.We should indeedworry that ourmodernindustrializedworld is full ofcarcinogens – frompesticides in the foodwe eat, to industrialpollutants in our airand water. But cellphone radiation isnot one of them.
  6. 6. 1053RESONANCE  November 2012GENERAL  ARTICLEgovernment is passing legislation that will set lower per-missible radiation limits at the base of cell phone towers.This is a retrograde step. Cell phone companies will hap-pily pass on the additional cost to the consumer, and weare the ones who will su®er. The unimaginable bene¯tsof connectivity will be lost to millions who cannot bearthis additional cost. The government should concentrateon legislation like universal education or better healthcare, which will have a direct impact on the quality of lifein our cities, rather than imagined risks from cell phonetowers. The same article also talks about residents as-sociations across the country campaigning against cellphone towers in their neighbourhoods. And these arethe same people who will complain that they do nothave proper network coverage" when the towers arefar away. They are shooting themselves in the foot bydenying residents the joy of wireless connectivity. Theyshould campaign instead on more useful things such asbanning the use of plastics in their areas or eliminatingchild labour.Address for CorrespondenceVasant NatarajanDepartment of PhysicsIndian Institute of ScienceBangalore 560 012, IndiaEmail:vasant@physics.iisc.ernet.in