Microwaves are electromagnetic waves with wavelengths shorter than one meter and longer than one millimeter, or frequencies between 300 megahertz and 300 gigahertz.

Apparatus and techniques may be described as "microwave" when the wavelengths of signals are roughly the same as the dimensions of the equipment, so that lumped-element circuit theory is inaccurate. As a consequence, practical microwave technique tends to move away from the discrete resistors, capacitors, and inductors used with lower frequency radio waves. Instead, distributed circuit elements and transmission-line theory are more useful methods for design, analysis, and construction of microwave circuits. Open-wire and coaxial transmission lines give way to waveguides, and lumped-element tuned circuits are replaced by cavity resonators or resonant lines.

Effects of reflection, polarization, scattering, and atmospheric absorption usually associated with visible light are of practical significance in the study of microwave propagation. The same equations of electromagnetic theory apply at all frequencies.

The name suggests a micrometer wavelength. However, the boundaries between far infrared light, terahertz radiation, microwaves, and ultra-high-frequency radio waves are fairly arbitrary and are used variously between different fields of study. The term microwave generally refers to "alternating current signals with frequencies between 300 MHz (3×108 Hz) and 300 GHz (3×1011 Hz)."[1] However, both IEC standard 60050 and IEEE standard 100 define "microwave" frequencies starting at 1 GHz (30 cm wavelength).

Electromagnetic waves longer (lower frequency) than microwaves are called "radio waves". Electromagnetic radiation with shorter wavelengths may be called "millimeter waves", terahertz radiation or even T-rays.


The existence of electromagnetic waves, of which microwaves are part of the frequency spectrum, was predicted by James Clerk Maxwell in 1864 from his equations. In 1888, Heinrich Hertz was the first to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves by building an apparatus that produced and detected microwaves in the UHF region. The design necessarily used horse-and-buggy materials, including a horse trough, a wrought iron point spark, Leyden jars, and a length of zinc gutter whose parabolic cross-section worked as a reflection antenna. In 1894 J. C. Bose publicly demonstrated radio control of a bell using millimetre wavelengths, and conducted research into the propagation of microwaves.

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Plot of the zenith atmospheric transmission on the summit of Mauna Kea throughout the entire gigahertz range of the electromagnetic spectrum at a precipitable water vapor level of 0.001 mm. (simulated)

Frequency range

The microwave range includes ultra-high frequency (UHF) (0.3–3 GHz), super high frequency (SHF) (3–30 GHz), and extremely high frequency (EHF) (30–300 GHz) signals.

Above 300 GHz, the absorption of electromagnetic radiation by Earth's atmosphere is so great that it is effectively opaque, until the atmosphere becomes transparent again in the so-called infrared and optical window frequency ranges

Microwave Sources

Vacuum tube based devices operate on the ballistic motion of electrons in a vacuum under the influence of controlling electric or magnetic fields, and include the magnetron, klystron, traveling wave tube (TWT), and gyrotron. These devices work in the density modulated mode, rather than the current modulated mode. This means that they work on the basis of clumps of electrons flying ballistically through them, rather than using a continuous stream.

A maser is a device similar to a laser, except that it works at microwave frequencies.


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A microwave telecommunications tower on Wrights Hill in Wellington, New Zealand
  • A microwave oven works by passing microwave radiation, usually at a frequency of 2450 MHz (a wavelength of 12.24 cm), through the food. Water, fat, and sugar molecules in the food absorb energy from the microwave beam in a process called dielectric heating. Many molecules (such as those of water) are electric dipoles, meaning that they have a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other, and therefore rotate as they try to align themselves with the alternating electric field induced by the microwave beam. This molecular movement creates heat as the rotating molecules hit other molecules and put them into motion. Microwave heating is most efficient on liquid water, and much less so on fats and sugars (which have less molecular dipole moment), and frozen water (where the molecules are not free to rotate). Microwave heating is sometimes incorrectly explained as a rotational resonance of water molecules: such resonance only occurs at much higher frequencies, in the tens of gigahertz. Moreover, large industrial/commercial microwave ovens operating in the 900 MHz range also heat water and food perfectly well.
  • A common misconception is that microwave ovens cook food from the "inside out". In reality, microwaves are absorbed in the outer layers of food in a manner somewhat similar to heat from other methods. The rays from a microwave electrically manipulate water particles to cook food. It is actually the friction caused by the movement that creates heat and warms the food. The misconception arises because microwaves penetrate dry nonconductive substances at the surfaces of many common foods, and thus often deposit initial heat more deeply than other methods. Depending on water content the depth of initial heat deposition may be several centimeters or more with microwave ovens, in contrast to grilling ("broiling" in American English), which relies on infrared radiation, or the thermal convection of a convection oven, which deposit heat shallowly at the food surface. Depth of penetration of microwaves is dependent on food composition and the frequency, with lower microwave frequencies being more penetrating.
  • Microwave radio is used in broadcasting and telecommunication transmissions because, due to their short wavelength, highly directive antennas are smaller and therefore more practical than they would be at longer wavelengths (lower frequencies). There is also more bandwidth in the microwave spectrum than in the rest of the radio spectrum; the usable bandwidth below 300 MHz is less than 300 MHz while many GHz can be used above 300 MHz. Typically, microwaves are used in television news to transmit a signal from a remote location to a television station from a specially equipped van.
  • Before the advent of fiber optic transmission, most long distance telephone calls were carried via microwave point-to-point links through sites like the AT&T Long Lines facility shown in the photograph. Starting in the early 1950's, frequency division multiplex was used to send up to 5,400 telephone channels on each microwave radio channel, with as many as ten radio channels combined into one antenna for the hop to the next site, up to 70 km away.
  • Radar also uses microwave radiation to detect the range, speed, and other characteristics of remote objects.
  • Wireless LAN protocols, such as Bluetooth and the IEEE 802.11 specifications, also use microwaves in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, although 802.11a uses ISM band and U-NII frequencies in the 5 GHz range. Licensed long-range (up to about 25 km) Wireless Internet Access services can be found in many countries (but not the USA) in the 3.5–4.0 GHz range.
  • Metropolitan Area Networks: MAN protocols, such as WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) based in the IEEE 802.16 specification. The IEEE 802.16 specification was designed to operate between 2 to 11 GHz. The commercial implementations are in the 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 5.8 GHz ranges.
  • Wide Area Mobile Broadband Wireless Access: MBWA protocols based on standards specifications such as IEEE 802.20 or ATIS/ANSI HC-SDMA (e.g. iBurst) are designed to operate between 1.6 and 2.3 GHz to give mobility and in-building penetration characteristics similar to mobile phones but with vastly greater spectral efficiency.
  • Cable TV and Internet access on coax cable as well as broadcast television use some of the lower microwave frequencies. Some mobile phone networks, like GSM, also use the lower microwave frequencies.
  • Many semiconductor processing techniques use microwaves to generate plasma for such purposes as reactive ion etching and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD).
  • Microwaves can be used to transmit power over long distances, and post-World War II research was done to examine possibilities. NASA worked in the 1970s and early 1980s to research the possibilities of using Solar power satellite (SPS) systems with large solar arrays that would beam power down to the Earth's surface via microwaves.
  • Most radio astronomy uses microwaves.

Microwave frequency bands

The microwave spectrum is usually defined as electromagnetic energy ranging from approximately 1 GHz to 1000 GHz in frequency, but older usage includes lower frequencies. Most common applications are within the 1 to 40 GHz range. Microwave Frequency Bands as defined by the Radio Society of Great Britain in the table below:

Microwave frequency bands
Designation Frequency range
L band1 to 2 GHz
S band2 to 4 GHz
C band4 to 8 GHz
X band8 to 12 GHz
Ku band12 to 18 GHz
K band18 to 26.5 GHz
Ka band26.5 to 40 GHz
Q band30 to 50 GHz
U band40 to 60 GHz
V band50 to 75 GHz
E band60 to 90 GHz
W band75 to 110 GHz
F band90 to 140 GHz
D band110 to 170 GHz

The above table reflects Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) usage. The term P band is sometimes used for Ku Band. For other definitions see Letter Designations of Microwave Bands

Health effects

Microwaves contain insufficient energy to directly chemically change substances by ionization, and so are an example of nonionizing radiation. The word "radiation" refers to the fact that energy can radiate, and not to the different nature and effects of different kinds of energy.

The health effects of microwaves are controversial. A great number of studies have been undertaken in the last two decades, some concluding that microwaves pose a hazard to health, and others concluding they are safe. It is understood that microwave radiation of a level that causes heating of living tissue is hazardous (due to the possibility of overheating and burns) and most countries have standards limiting exposure, such as the Federal Communications Commission RF safety regulations. Still at issue is whether lower levels of microwave energy have bioeffects.

Synthetic reviews of literature indicate the predominance of their safety of use. [2] [3]

History and research

Perhaps the first, documented, formal use of the term microwave occurred in 1931:
"When trials with wavelengths as low as 18 cm were made known, there was undisguised surprise that the problem of the micro-wave had been solved so soon." Telegraph & Telephone Journal XVII. 179/1
Perhaps the first use of the word microwave in an astronomical context occurred in 1946 in an article "Microwave Radiation from the Sun and Moon" by Robert Dicke and Robert Beringer.

For some of the history in the development of electromagnetic theory applicable to modern microwave applications see the following figures: Specific significant areas of research and work developing microwaves and their applications:

Specific work on microwaves
Work carried out by Area of work
Barkhausen and KurzPositive grid oscillators
HullSmooth bore magnetron
Varian BrothersVelocity modulated electron beam → klystron tube
Randall and BootCavity magnetron


1. ^ Pozar, David M. (1993). Microwave Engineering Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 0-201-50418-9.
2. ^ Dugauquier C. РEffects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (microwaves) on mammalian pregnancy. Litterature review РM̩decine et Arm̩es, 2006; 34 (3): 215-218
3. ^ Heynick C. et al. – Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields: Cancer,Mutagenesis, and Genotoxicity – Bioelectromagnetics Supplement, 2003; 6:S74-S100 .

External links

See also

Radio spectrum
3 Hz30 Hz300 Hz3 kHz30 kHz300 kHz3 MHz30 MHz300 MHz3 GHz30 GHz
30 Hz300 Hz3 kHz30 kHz300 kHz3 MHz30 MHz300 MHz3 GHz30 GHz300 GHz

Electromagnetic (EM) radiation is a self-propagating wave in space with electric and magnetic components. These components oscillate at right angles to each other and to the direction of propagation, and are in phase with each other.
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microwave oven, or microwave, is a kitchen appliance employing microwave radiation primarily to cook or heat food. Microwave ovens have revolutionized food preparation since their use became widespread in the 1970s.
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Electromagnetic (EM) radiation is a self-propagating wave in space with electric and magnetic components. These components oscillate at right angles to each other and to the direction of propagation, and are in phase with each other.
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In physics, wavelength is the distance between repeating units of a propagating wave of a given frequency. It is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). Examples of wave-like phenonomena are light, water waves, and sound waves.
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The lumped element model of electronic circuits makes the simplifying assumption that each element is finite point in space, and that the wires connecting elements are perfect conductors.
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resistor is a two-terminal electrical or electronic component that resists an electric current by producing a voltage drop between its terminals in accordance with Ohm's law: The electrical resistance
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capacitor is an electrical/electronic device that can store energy in the electric field between a pair of conductors (called "plates"). The process of storing energy in the capacitor is known as "charging", and involves electric charges of equal magnitude, but opposite polarity,
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An inductor is a passive electrical device employed in electrical circuits for its property of inductance. An inductor can take many forms.



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Radio Wave may mean:
  • Radio frequency
  • Radio Wave 96.5, a radio station in Blackpool, UK

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A waveguide is a structure which guides waves, such as electromagnetic waves, light, or sound waves. There are different types of waveguide for each type of wave.

Electromagnetic waveguides

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In electromagnetism, Maxwell's equations are a set of four equations that were first presented as a distinct group in 1884 by Oliver Heaviside in conjunction with Willard Gibbs.
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Infrared (IR) radiation is electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength longer than that of visible light, but shorter than that of radio waves. The name means "below red" (from the Latin infra, "below"), red being the color of visible light with the longest wavelength.
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terahertz radiation, terahertz waves, terahertz light, T-rays, T-light, T-lux and THz, are in the region of the electromagnetic spectrum between 300 gigahertz (3x1011 Hz) and 3 terahertz (3x1012
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Radio is the wireless transmission of signals, by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space.
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wave is a mode of energy transfer from one place to another, often with little or no permanent displacement of the particles of the medium (i.e. little or no associated mass transport); instead there are oscillations around almost fixed positions.
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terahertz radiation, terahertz waves, terahertz light, T-rays, T-light, T-lux and THz, are in the region of the electromagnetic spectrum between 300 gigahertz (3x1011 Hz) and 3 terahertz (3x1012
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James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell
Born May 13 1831(1831--)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died November 5 1879 (aged 48)
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In electromagnetism, Maxwell's equations are a set of four equations that were first presented as a distinct group in 1884 by Oliver Heaviside in conjunction with Willard Gibbs.
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Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

Born January 22 1857(1857--)
Hamburg, Germany
Died January 1 1894 (aged 38)
Bonn, Germany
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The Leyden jar is a device for storing electric charge invented in 1745 by Pieter van Musschenbroek (1700–1748). It was the first capacitor. Leyden jars were used to conduct many early experiments in electricity.
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Cycles per second: 300 MHz to 3 GHz
Wavelength: 1 m to 100 mm Ultra high frequency (UHF) designates a range (band) of electromagnetic waves whose frequency is between 300 MHz and 3 GHz, which is 300 MHz to 3,000 MHz.
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Super high frequency (or SHF) refers to radio frequencies (RF) in the range of 3 GHz and 30 GHz. Also known as the centimeter band or centimeter wave as the wavelengths range from ten to one centimeters.
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Extremely high frequency is the highest radio frequency band. EHF runs the range of frequencies from 30 to 300 gigahertz, above which electromagnetic radiation is considered to be low (or far) infrared light, also referred to as Terahertz radiation.
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optical window is the optical portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that passes through the atmosphere all the way to the ground. Most EM wavelengths are blocked by the atmosphere, so this is like a window that lets only a narrow selection of what is out there, though the Sun is
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vacuum tube, electron tube (inside North America), thermionic valve, or just valve (elsewhere); is a device used to amplify, switch, otherwise modify, or create an electrical signal by controlling the movement of electrons in a low-pressure space, often not
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A cavity magnetron is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates coherent microwaves. They are commonly found in microwave ovens, as well as various radar applications.

Construction and operation

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klystron is a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube (evacuated electron tube). The pseudo-Greek word klystron comes from the stem form κλυσ- (klys
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A traveling wave tube (TWT) is an electronic device used to produce high-power radio frequency signals.

The TWT was invented by Rudolf Kompfner in a British radar lab during World War II, and refined by Kompfner and John Pierce at Bell Labs.
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Gyrotrons are high powered electron tubes which emit millimeter wavelength beams by bunching electrons with cyclotron motion in a strong magnetic field. Output frequencies range from about 20 to 250 GHz, covering wavelengths from microwave to the edge of terahertz.
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