This section provides a brief overview of some basic science and a sample of research, to help to understand biological effects at a distance from sources of “wireless” radiofrequency and low-frequency radiation.
What is electromagnetic radiation?
Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is commonly known as light. Visible light is a small sliver of the spectrum, that ranges from ionizing radiation such as gamma-rays and X-rays, through ultraviolet and visible light, to infrared then microwave and radiofrequency radiation, and lower frequencies down to powerline (60 Hertz [Hz] or 50 Hz) and to naturally occurring Schumann frequencies.
All electromagnetic radiation travels at the speed of light, so the frequency and wavelength are related. Think of two runners travelling at the same speed, one taking short, rapid steps and the other a longer stride. Similarly, the higher the frequency the smaller the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, and vice versa.
The wavelength of light determines interactions with living tissues, with the longest wavelengths largely transcending the body and shorter wavelengths being absorbed entirely. When the wavelength is approximately the dimension of an organism, then instead of transcending the body the radiation resonates and may be particularly harmful, as modelled in insects.1
A further detail is that electromagnetic radiation has two aspects – electrical fields and magnetic fields, and both may affect living tissues.
What about photons?
Light acts like waves, and also as particles called photons, with photons of higher frequencies/shorter wavelengths carrying more energy.
The highest energy photons of ionizing radiation carry enough energy to remove an electron from an atom, producing a charged atom called an “ion.” It is often mistakenly stated that only ionizing radiation can be harmful. This is not true.
Chemical bonds consist of electrons between atomic nuclei. Lower energy photons “nudge” electrons, so bonds adjust and form a new chemical. Indeed, microwaves are used commercially to speed up and alter products of chemical reactions using “microwave catalysis.”2 Inappropriate chemical reactions will impact function and health of living organisms.
Biological effects of environmental exposures to wireless radiation are discussed under Environmental Impacts on fauna and flora.
1. Thielens A, Bell D, Mortimore DB, Greco MK, Martens L, Joseph W. Exposure of Insects to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields from 2 to 120 GHz. Sci Rep . 2018 Mar 2;8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5834628/
2. Yoshimura T, Mineki S, Ohuchi S. Microwave-Assisted Enzymatic Reactions. In: Microwaves in Catalysis . John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2015. p. 213–38. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9783527688111.ch11