Electromagnetic Fields and the Human Body: Friend or Foe?

21 October 2011

The following review was written by Harriet Taylor from Badminton School, Bristol, who attended the talk with a group of her fellow A-level students….

Institute of Physics News

On 28 September, in the University of Gloucestershire’s Elwes Building in Cheltenham, over 100 people attended a talk based on electromagnetic fields. 

The talk, given by Professor Tony Barker from Sheffield University, highlighted misconceptions about the dangers of electromagnetic waves in our community today as well as talking about the waves’ importance to society. 

It was incredibly interesting and pointed out the extent to which our society depends on scientific advances. For example, fake trees are built to hide phone masts so that as many people as possible can have access to mobile phone and internet coverage.

Professor Barker made his talk accessible to a wide range of ages and was able to grab the attention of a group of 22 A-Level students on a Wednesday evening, which, I have to hand it to him, was an achievement! 

The part of the talk which stood out the most for me was when he demonstrated a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TCMS) machine. 

This device is used to stimulate the motor system deep inside a subject’s brain.  At the end of the talk anyone who wanted to was invited to experience transcranial magnetic stimulation under Professor Barkers expert control, this brought the talk alive and made it all the more understandable.

To illustrate what he was saying Professor Barker used case studies to show the some of the research that has been done on what affects electromagnetic field can have on our health.

 One example was whether mobile phones contributed to brain cancer, and another was whether living under an electricity pylon increased the chance of children getting cancer. 

Some studies showed an apparent link between the two variables but Professor Barker’s talk also explained how the electromagnetic waves involved do not have enough energy to damage our tissues and it illustrated how difficult it is to research the causes of cancer in people who are exposed to many different risks all the time.