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8 December 2011

The Eskimo family cell-phone

Michael Peleg
The reader should like physics to enjoy this story. It is an illustrative fiction.
An Eskimo family lived in the north of Alaska. They lived in a nice igloo built from snow which
insulates heat well and reflects the strong spring light and spent the time hunting and fishing.
One day a group of scientists came nearby and told Inut, the father of the family, about the
advantages of modern technology. They brought him a new building material similar to snow
but better. It was a perfect heat insulator and reflected all radiation. One of the scientists,
working for a nice grant from a cellcom company, brought more free gifts: a cellphone, a
laptop with a wireless internet connection and a small base-station with an antenna. Since the
new igloo-construction material reflected all radiation and would block also the cellphone
radio transmissions he provided a replacement building material with identical insulating
properties except for being partly transparent to radio waves.
The scientists returned home and the Eskimo family built the new igloo at a sufficient distance
from the antenna as dictated by the radiation safety rules.
When the winter storms began they entered the igloo, closed the door and the Eskimo
children enjoyed their internet connection so their parents had no chance to even touch the
keyboard. However Inut's wife said after some time that the new igloo is too warm, and, since
Eskimo wives are very persuasive, the family moved back to their old igloo. Before leaving,
Inut, in a vain hope to persuade his wife, connected his cellphone to a thermometer and left it
in the hi-tech igloo.
After a long time, Inut's daughter surfed via internet to the thermometer left behind in the hitech igloo and read it. It showed a million degrees Celsius. The surprised family threw the basestation and the antenna to the ocean floor thru a hole in the ice to stop the dangerous heat
buildup, did not pay the cell-phone bills and lived happily ever after.

The science behind the story:

A small cell phone base-station is indeed powerful enough to heat a perfectly isolated igloo to
much more than a million degrees Celsius as shown in the following technical paper:
A Thermodynamic Perspective on the Interaction of Radio Frequency Radiation with Living
Tissue, International Journal of Biophysics, April 2012
The effect is intimately related to the energy of the permitted radio radiation being vastly
higher than that of the natural background radiation.

The perfectly isolating and reflecting material is very futuristic. And yes, the resulting
temperature is surprising.
Reaching the extreme temperature would take a very long time. If the igloo had a normal
window, even a closed one, nothing would happen since the heating by the cellphone basestation radiation is much slower than the heat dissipation thru the window. Base stations will
not heat at all the interior of your home.
Similarly, when the same radiation (at a sufficient distance!) passes thru our bodies it heats us
only by a small part of a degree because the energy transfer from the radiation is on the
average much slower than the rate at which our bodies cool. So is everything great? Not
necessarily. If there are small parts in our bodies, such as maybe some molecules on the cell
membranes, which couple to the radiation significantly more strongly than the average and/or
dissipate their energy significantly more slowly than the average, then those molecules might
acquire higher energy than the average similarly to the hi-tech igloo and damage may occur.
The radiation can be considered as something extremely hot and the heating of particular
molecules depends on how fast the energy flows from the radiation to the molecules and how
fast it is dissipated from those molecules to the surroundings. In biology damage can occur due
a temperature rise of only a few degrees as everybody who got a fever knows.
Are there really such molecules? Radio waves do influence biology as proved by many
experiments and are categorized as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the world health
organization (WHO). It is not known how the interaction exactly happens, the above is a
possibility. On the other hand this is not the only conceivable way for RF radiation to effect
living tissue.

Michael Peleg,