Friday, May 24, 2013

Eleanor Adair (1926-2013)

Eleanor Adair, who studied the health risks of microwave radiation, died on April 20 in Hamden, Connecticut at the age of 86. A 2001 interview with Adair, published in the New York Times, began
Eleanor R. Adair wants to tell the world what she sees as the truth about microwave radiation.

New widely reported studies have failed to find that cellular phones, which use microwaves to transmit signals, cause cancer. And most academic scientists say the microwave radiation that people are exposed to with devices like cell phones is harmless. But still, Dr. Adair knows that many people deeply fear these invisible rays.

She knows that many people hear the word “radiation” and assume that all radiation is dangerous, equating microwaves to the very different X-rays.

Microwaves, she points out, are at the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum from high energy radiation like X-rays and gamma rays. And unlike gamma rays and X-rays, which can break chemical bonds and injure cells, even causing cancer, microwaves, she says, can only heat cells. Of course, if cells get hot enough, they can die, but the heat level has to be closer to that in an oven than the extremely low level from cell phones.
The interview ends with this exchange:
Q. If I were to say to people, “Hey there’s this really cool idea: Why heat your whole house when you could use microwaves to heat yourself?” they would say: “You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t you know that microwaves are dangerous? They can even cause cancer.” What do you say to people who respond like that?

A. I try to educate them in exactly what these fields are. That they are part of the full electromagnetic spectrum that goes all the way from the radio frequency and microwave bands, through infrared, ultraviolet, the gamma rays and all that.

And the difference between the ionizing X-ray, gamma ray region and the microwave frequency is in the quantum energy. The lower you get in frequency the lower you get in quantum energy and the less it can do to the cells in your body.

If you have a really high quantum energy such as your X-rays and ionizing-radiation region of the spectrum, this energy is high enough that it can bump electrons out of the orbit in your cells and it can create serious changes in the cells of your body such that they can turn into cancers and various other things that are not good for you.

But down where we are working, in the microwave band, you are millions of times lower in frequency and there the quantum energy is so low that they can’t do any damage to the cells whatsoever. And most people don’t realize this.

Somehow, something is missing in their basic science education, which is something I keep trying to push. Learn the spectrum. Learn that you’re in far worse shape if you lie out on the beach in the middle of summer and you soak up that ultraviolet radiation than you are if you use your cell phone.

Q. Some people say that with the ever-increasing exposure of the population to microwaves—cell phones have really taken off in the past few years—we need to redouble our research efforts to look for dangerous effects of microwaves on cells and human tissues. Do you agree?

A. No. All the emphasis that we need more research on power line fields, cell phones, police radar—this involves billions of dollars that could be much better spent on other health problems. Because there is really nothing there.
We don’t cite Adair’s research in the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, but we do cover the interaction of electromagnetic fields with tissue in Chapter 9. Much of our discussion is about powerline (60 Hz) fields, but many of the same considerations apply to microwaves. In our discussion, we do cite Robert Adair, Eleanor’s husband and an emeritus professor of physics at Yale, who shares his wife’s interest in the health effect of microwave radiation.

Adair won the d’Arsonval Award, presented by the Bioelectromagnetics Society, to recognize her accomplishments in the field of bioelectromagnetics. In an editorial announcing the award, Ben Greenebaum writes (Bioelectromagnetics, Volume 29, Page 585, 2008)
It gives me great pleasure to introduce Dr. Eleanor R. Adair, the recipient of the Bioelectromagnetics Society’s 2007 D’Arsonval Award, as she presents her Award Lecture (Fig. 1). Dr. Adair is being honored by the Society for her body of work investigating physiological thermoregulatory responses to radio frequency and microwave fields. Her bioelectromagnetic career began with extensive experimental studies of electromagnetic radiation-induced thermophysiological responses in monkeys and concluded with experiments that accomplished the critical extrapolation of the earlier findings to humans. I believe that this body of work constitutes a majority of the literature on the latter topic.

She spent most of her career as a research scientist at the John B. Pierce Foundation Laboratory at Yale University, but finished it as a scientist at the US Air Force’s Brooks City Base in San Antonio, Texas. As she notes in her D’Arsonval address [Adair, 2008], she took her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College in 1948 and her doctorate in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1955. Interspersed among her academic accomplishments in Madison were others—marriage to Robert Adair and children. We should not forget that combining a research career and family at that time was much rarer and required overcoming greater difficulties than those still encountered today. Those of us who have interacted with Dr. Adair over the years know that she has determination in plenty.

Dr. Adair was a charter member of the Society and was its Secretary-Treasurer (1983–1986) during a difficult time, when the Society decided to replace its first Executive Director with Bill Wisecup. She has also been active outside the Society, both with groups concerned with research into bioelectromagnetic effects and with groups concerned with the implications of these results.

However, it is for her overall scientific contributions to bioelectromagnetics that she is being presented the D’Arsonval Award. The criteria for the Award state that “. . . the D’Arsonval Medal is to recognize outstanding achievement in research in the field of Bioelectromagnetics.” And that is the topic that she will address today in her presentation entitled, “Reminiscences of a Journeyman Scientist.”
For those who want to read Adair's own words, you can find her presentation at:
Adair. E. R. (2008) “Reminiscences of a journeyman scientist: Studies of thermoregulation in non-human primates and humans,”  Bioelectromagnetics  Volume 29, Pages 586–597.

1 comment:

  1. She sounds like a remarkable person: one who wanted to teach as well as understand nature. After reading only this blog in reference to her work, I would say she neglected to explain what 'the quantum energy' is and what important interactions are associated with it. She remained too abstract and likely could have done a better job at helping others understand this line of reasoning.