Are Microwaves Really Deadly?

Alternative title: One Basil Plant Is Not a Sample

A few weeks ago the Austrian newspaper “Die Krone” tried to do some serious science and decided to publish its findings in the sunday paper on 2014-1-12 — they called the article “Das unheimliche Mikrowellen-Experiment” (“The Scary Microwaves Experiment”).
It turned out that the headline was just a phrase to get the readers’ attention — the only scary thing about it was that the author believed a phenomenon can be proven by an experiment with only two plants.

The setup was simple: there were two basil plants. While one was being watered with tap water, the other one got water that was heated with a microwave oven. After some days one of the pot plants didn’t look healthy anymore and lost, after a few more days, its leaves — it was the one that was irrigated with microwaved water.
The author didn’t draw a real final conclusion but guessed the microwaves had something to do with it and let the reader ponder over what killed the basil.

Randomness and Other Factors

Especially with a sample of only two it is very likely that the outcome is a result of one of many other factors: maybe one was already sick or injured, got less light, didn’t adept well enough etc.
Another possibility is that the material of the water container and its heating had something to do with the tragic death of basil #2 — the article’s photos suggest it was some kind of plastic.
The most obvious parameter is probably the heating and boiling of the water in contrast to not doing so for the control plant.

Solution: Do It Yourself

Because of the large number of uncertainties in the experiment done by the “Krone” author, two friends and I decided to do it better and with a bigger sample of plants.

Basil setup

My setup is bigger and the experiment takes much more time and care, but I am certain that it will yield more acurate results — as well as a huge pile of basil for mozzarella and pesto.

  1. The experiment begins with seeds, not adult plants.
  2. There are 7 seeds in a pot, 4 pots in each research group.
  3. The 3 research groups are: boiled water (on an electric stove in enamel), microwaved water (in a drinking glass) and unboiled water.
  4. All plants grow under identical conditions (same soil, light, temperature etc.)
  5. and are treated equally (amount of water, time of irrigation etc.).
  6. All the water is from the same tap and prepared at the same time, then left to cool to room temperature before watering.

Three pupils and their teachers of a school in Bad St. Leonhard are doing a similar project themselves and, even at this young age, incorporate scientific thinking in their study — I wish them good luck!

 The Real Question

Why do people want something as useful as a microwave oven to be bad, even deadly — when it’s been so great at making popcorn for decades? The same anxiety applies to mobile phone emissions or any other kind of radiation.

The unknowing of a process or the lack of interest should not justify the belief in charlatanry or half-baked “theories”.

Yes, radiation is a difficult topic, but people often misuse the language of physics and science for their own good or to arouse attention and emotions.
Phenomena like the death of the basil or a possible effect of microwaves on other living beings are being studied in a serious way, but mostly outside of newspaper offices.

Radiation and energy is all around you — just not in the way your esoteric or journalist wants you to believe.

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