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Sensors and Devices

Biological Effects of Pulsed Microwave Fields on Luminophores

Research Background

Microwaves are ubiquitous within the modern urban environment. They are used in communications devices such as mobile phones, radar, and in microwave ovens. This multidisciplinary project deals with the fundamental interactions of separate microwave electric and magnetic fields on living organisms. There are ongoing concerns about the effects of microwaves on the health of the general population and especially in children, and although there has been no significant evidence to suggest that mobile phones for example, cause any real dangers to the physical or mental health of the general population, the NHS still advises that children below the age of 16 should only use mobile phones for essential purposes, and should where possible use hands free kits.

The Challenge

Over the past 40 years, a number of insights into the effects of millimetre-wave radiation on living cells and organisms have been published, although their interpretation remains controversial. Many of these publications concern incident power exposure well below the threshold deemed safe for human treatment regimes.

Whilst the biological effect of microwaves itself provides a novel sensor platform, it is essential for us to understand the biological consequences of such interactions.

Current Developments

The researchers employed the luminous marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri. This organism emits lights in the visible spectrum and is exquisitely responsive to external perturbations.

The investigators have previously applied its light output as an extremely sensitive biosensor for trace concentrations (picomolar) of dissolved or gas phase oxygen in experimental laboratory systems, and in diverse industrial and biomedical applications, including a commercially marketed monitor for toxicants in water supplies (Cymtox, winner of a Cardiff Innovation Network Award 2011). They have also previously used continuous cultures of bioluminescent bacteria to develop a high-throughput screening system for the biological effects of millimeter-wave radiation. Most recently, they have developed a microwave resonant cavity operating for preliminary experiments using continuous bacterial flow within sea water.

Initial results indicate exciting possibilities for further work on this hybrid technology to resolve long-standing questions on the extent and importance of non-thermal (i.e. magnetic, or short-pulsed electric field) contribution to widely observed, but unexplained, effects on living tissue, mammalian cells in culture and also with components purified from cells. The main aim here is to obtain a definitive dataset and fuller interpretation of these results.


"The aim of this project is to further investigate the effects of microwaves on living organisms, and we hope to be able to use this data to contribute to the interpretation of research on the dangers of devices containing microwaves, without the ethical issues and risks involved in experiments on the human population." 

- Professor Adrian Porch


One of the key features of this project is its multidisciplinary nature and it involves partners from a range of disciplines including physics, biosciences, chemistry and engineering.

This Sêr Cymru NRN project has led to the development of a novel device which will allow observation of the biological effects of microwaves in real-time in cells under the microscope. This marks a major breakthrough in this field, providing researchers with the tools to delve into the complex bio-physical interactions which exits between these electromagnetic fields and biological systems.

Case Study Image

Initial microwave experiments were performed in an enclosed microwave cavity, but now new types of microwave applicators have been developed that allow direct observation via microscopy of microwave field effects on living organisms and cells.



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Case Study Contacts

Prof Adrian Porch
Advanced Sensors and Devices
July 2016