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Microwave Ovens
Page 8 of 13 (127 Questions and Answers)

1020. Is it possible isolate a room or part of it totally from microwaves? — DMJ
Because conducting surfaces reflect electromagnetic waves, you can shield a room from electromagnetic waves by enclosing it in conducting surfaces. For example, a room surrounded by metal mirrors will be completely black inside because light won't be able to enter it. Furthermore, if the electromagnetic waves that you're trying to exclude have reasonably long wavelengths, you can put holes in the conducting surfaces because electromagnetic waves can't pass through holes in a conducting surface if those holes are substantially smaller than their wavelengths. So, to shield your room from microwaves, I'd suggest enclosing it in copper screening with holes that are no more than a few millimeters in diameter. Many scientific experiments are performed in such screen rooms, which are generally called Faraday cages.

1058. If you stand near a microwave oven, looking at your food, is it dangerous—tissue damage or make you blind?
Properly built and undamaged microwave ovens leak so few microwaves that they aren't dangerous at all. Even if they did leak enough to be in violation of the safety limits, those safety limits are very conservative. While there is no reason to court disaster by holding your face right up to the microwave for hours and hours, it shouldn't hurt you at all.

1059. Why can you put a can of frozen concentrate juice in the microwave? The metal doesn't spark or burn.
The microwaves in a microwave oven consist of electric and magnetic fields. Since electric fields push on electric charges, microwaves cause electric currents to flow through any metal objects they encounter. These movements of current don't necessarily cause any problems in a microwave oven. In fact, metal objects only cause trouble in the microwave oven when they are so thin or narrow that they can't tolerate the electric currents that flow through them or when they have such sharp ends that electric charges leap off them as sparks. A thin object like a twist-tie can't tolerate the currents and becomes very hot. Its sharp ends also allow charges to leap out into the air as sparks. But the thick, rounded end of a juice concentrate can easily tolerates the currents sent through it by the microwaves and doesn't have the sharp ends needed to send charges into the air as sparks. It doesn't present any problem for the microwave oven.

1070. Why does food become soggy after heating in the microwave oven, particularly pastry?
A normal oven heats foods by exposing them to hot air and thermal radiation. It cooks the foods from the outside in. As a result, a normal oven tends to make the surfaces of food dry and crispy because it heats those outer surfaces first and drives the water out of them. A microwave oven heats the food by heating the water in that food. It cooks foods from the inside out. As a result, a microwave oven tends to drive water out of the middle of the food and into the outer layers of that food. The outer layers are essentially "steamed" and steaming makes everything soggy.

1079. Do hand carried microwave heaters exist or must the microwaves always be enclosed, as they are in a microwave oven? — AL, Umea, Sweden
My understanding is that there are microwave heating systems that are not enclosed and that are used in medical therapies to provide deep warming to injured tissues in medical patients. But apart from such devices, I've never heard of unenclosed microwave heaters. That's because such heaters would be dangerous, since a user would be exposed to the heating effects of the microwaves. To keep the microwave heating under control, microwave ovens always carefully enclose the microwaves in a metal cooking chamber from which they can't escape.

1080. How do microwave ovens affect people fitted with pacemakers? — W
If a microwave oven doesn't leak microwaves, then it won't affect such people at all. However, if microwaves do leak from a particular microwave oven, they will cause undesirable currents to flow in the electric leads of the pacemaker. That's because a microwave consists of electric and magnetic fields, and an electric field exerts forces on charged particles. The mobile charged particles in the pacemaker's electric wiring will experience these forces as the microwave encounters them and they will move back and forth with the microwave's fluctuating electric field. The pacemaker's wiring isn't meant to carry these unexpected current flows, and the pacemaker and/or the person attached to it may experience unpleasant effects. While such problems are very unlikely, it makes sense to warn pacemaker users whenever a microwave oven is in use.

1081. I know that an electromagnetic wave cannot pass through the holes in a metal cage (a Faraday cage) if those holes are significantly smaller than the wavelength of the wave. But what if it is just a constant electric field? What determines the hole size now? — KBH, Logan, Utah
If the electric field isn't changing with time, then it can't enter a metal cage no matter how large the cage's holes are. In effect, the constant electric field has an infinite wavelength and can't propagate through holes of any finite size. However, the holes don't stop an electromagnetic wave instantly—the wave does penetrate a short distance into the cage before it dwindles to insignificance. The distance over which the wave diminishes by a factor of about 3 is roughly the size of the hole through which it is trying to pass. So if your Faraday cage has holes that are 1 centimeter in diameter, the constant electric field will take several centimeters to diminish to nearly zero. If the holes are much larger than that, the electric field will penetrate far into the cage and the cage will only be an effective shield if it is extremely large. To avoid having to use a very large cage, it's better to use small holes.

1098. Assuming microwave ovens cook on the principle of "moist" heat cookery, what are the general effects of microwave cooking on various foods, including effects on chemical structure? — EJ, Sydney, Australia
Microwave ovens cook by depositing thermal energy in the water molecules, which isn't the same as cooking food in moist hot air. Microwave cooking tends to heat food uniformly throughout where as more conventional "moist" heat cooking still heats food from the outside in. Nonetheless, the chemical effects on food are very similar for both types of cooking. Virtually all of these effects are caused by elevating the temperatures of the food. I'm not an expert on the chemistry of cooking, but elevated temperatures certainly denature proteins and caramelize sugars.

1099. I know that microwaves only heat polar molecules but what about aluminum foil and graphitic carbon, which are both heated by microwaves even though they have no dipole moments? — EB
Aluminum foil and graphitic carbon are both conductors of electricity. When they're exposed to microwaves, the electric fields in those microwaves causes currents to flow through them. If the aluminum were thick enough, it would be able to handle the currents without trouble. But aluminum is very thin and the current that flows through it may be more than it can tolerate, particularly if it's only a narrow strip. It then becomes very hot. The effect is the same as would happen if you plugged the aluminum foil into an electric outlet and sent current through it that way. The same heating occurs in the carbon—the current that flows in it heats it up. In short, relatively poor conductors of electricity become hot in a microwave because they permit currents to flow in response to the microwave electric fields but then can't tolerate those currents without becoming hot.

1142. When two identical items are cooked, one with a microwave oven and the other on the stove, which will cool faster? — CR
If the distributions of temperatures inside the items were the same after cooking, they would cool at the same rate. However, a microwave oven tends to cook relatively evenly throughout the food while the stove tends to cook from the outside of the food inward. That means that food cooked in a microwave oven tends to have more thermal energy near its center than food cooked on a stove, even when those foods contain the same total amount of thermal energy. Since foods lose heat through their surfaces, the extra thermal energy in the food cook by microwave will take longer to flow out to the surface of the food and from there to its surroundings. All else being equal, I would expect the food cooked in the microwave oven to cool slightly slower than the food cooked on the stovetop.
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