What does radiation do?

Thursday, 10. August 2017

What does radiation do?

Living our daily lives without electricity is almost unimaginable. You may only become truly aware during a power outage what it means to be without power – and that many things in our everyday life just wouldn’t work without electricity. Thinking only of our household, we are surrounded by numerous electrical devices, while when we head out we nearly always take our mobile phones with us – or might even use an electric car, as these are becoming increasingly popular.

This results in forces whose dispersion physicists describe as fields. Wherever electric current flows, there is not just an electric, but also a magnetic field created. The two influence each other. Electric and magnetic fields are not only generated artificially, but are also found naturally. The earth is surrounded by a magnetic field and electric fields are made by thunderstorms.

Now the question arises increasingly often of how these electric or magnetic fields impact on the human body. As man also magnetically resonates, these fields logically have to affect the human body. Increasingly also raised in this context is the question of a negative health impact – from stress symptoms to possible carcinogenic effects.

How does electrical radiation actually impact us?

Technical systems often work with alternating current, which means fields continuously changing their direction and strength. The unit of measurement Hertz (Hz) indicates how often this process is repeated in a second. Experts talk about frequency and also use, in this context, the term vibration. They distinguish between high and low-frequency fields. Low-frequency fields occur in electrical appliances and live electrical wires that carry voltage, such as in mobile telephones and wireless computer networks. The frequency in the public electricity supply in Europe is 50 vibrations per second - creating low-frequency electric fields. For high-frequency fields, experts talk about 100,000 to 300 billion vibrations per second, i.e. in the range between 100 Kilo and 300 Gigahertz. Because the electrical and magnetic components in high frequency fields are tightly linked, they are known as electromagnetic fields.

As the frequencies vary, the effects of the fields are very different. Dependent on the frequency is, for example, how deeply fields penetrate organisms. At frequencies of approximately one Gigahertz, which is used in mobile telephones, this can be a matter of a few centimetres, according to data from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. High-frequency fields are emitted by antennas as they are needed for radio, mobile or also wireless computer networks. Important for gauging the impact is how far an organism is from the antenna. The field’s strength decreases rapidly with increasing distance.

If, instead of electromagnetic fields, you are considering electromagnetic radiation, the fact is that energy is transported. Visible light and X-rays are also forms of electromagnetic radiation. While X-ray radiation has so much energy that atoms and molecules are electrically charged, in other words ionised, this is not the case with the radiation used during data transmissions in phones or computers. This so-called non-ionising radiation is not able to split chemical compounds and to cause tissue damage, for example. But it is undisputed that it provides extra energy to organisms. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, it is clearly proved that this energy can cause a thermal affect. Health consequences are said to be expected if thresholds are exceeded and the thermal regulation of the body disrupted. Experiments on animals claim to have shown that metabolic processes could be disturbed by increasing body temperature over a sustained period. Changes to behaviour are also said to have been observed.

Why should you be aware of radiation?

Knowledge of electric or magnetic fields is playing an increasingly important role for us as electrical appliances are becoming more numerous in our lives almost by the day. Man has, realistically speaking, barely any possibility of avoiding all radiation in civilised society. Electrical devices are everywhere you turn, and we are constantly exposed to some radiation. Modern communication has also contributed its part to this development, with the use of smartphones and almost unlimited connection to the internet increasing radiation exposure for humans. The increasing electric mobility also plays its part and will multiply radiation exposure to people in the coming years. When you look at this development in particular, you can see that the need for research in this area is enormous.