How Microwaves Work and Whether They're Really All That Dangerous

Microwaves (the waves not the appliance) can heat food but can they also make people sick?

All the way back in 1946 engineer Percy Spencer was testing a military-grade magnetron, a mechanism that helped generate microwaves, when he found out that they had melted a peanut cluster in his pocket. Pretty soon he was literally making popcorn for people in his office using the newfound discovery and a year later the first commercial microwave would be born. Except it wasn’t called a microwave. It was called the Radarange, which sounds a lot like something you’d find in a video game.

These waves are directed onto the food sitting on top of the dish while your food rotates. Your food needs to spin so the microwaves can enter every side of it. This is what cooks it evenly.

The more these molecules vibrate, the more your food heats up., cooking it from the inside. Kind of like when you rub your hands together when you’re cold. The friction of the molecules heats up the entire dish.

And remember when your parents would tell you to get away from the microwave whenever you turned it on? Your exposure to radiation actually drops the farther you are from the device, but for the most part, you’re actually pretty safe. However, the FDA has warned on its website that microwave related injuries do happen. Most of them are burns from food that is much too hot being removed from the chamber. Any radiation problems are probably due to improper servicing and unusual circumstances in which radiation has leaked through. Plus, the FDA has restrictions in place that require microwave manufacturers to make sure only a certain amount of radiation leaks out.

But are microwaves supposed to leak out radiation? Not really, but as with any home appliance you own for years, microwaves aren’t immune to wear and tear. Maybe, as a general rule of thumb, replace an old microwave every 5-10 years.

As for microwave weapons, none that affect the brain exist. At least, the public doesn’t know about them. But the symptoms that popped up at the Cuban Embassy have definitely put them on our radar. However, there are such things as DEWs, or directed-energy weapons, that use microwaves and other energy forms to attack enemy vehicles, missiles, and personnel. Those are currently being developed by the US, the UK, Russia, India, and China. None of them have made it outside of experimental testing though so nothing to worry about.

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