There is a new twist, or shall we say wave, to the story about American diplomats experiencing a mystery illness in Cuba and China (see our news article on the Cuban Medical Crisis). In the initial investigation of these incidents, some form of sonic attack was suspected. There is now a new hypothesis involving microwaves. Turns out that microwaves have been known to induce sensations of hearing since the 1960s. Initially called the Frey effect after the individual who first reported the phenomenon to the scientific community, the phenomenon is now simply called microwave auditory effect or radio-frequency hearing.
Put simply, microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. These short radio waves are in the same form of energy that cook our food in microwave ovens or help us chat on our cellular phones. The kind that cause the auditory effects are of much shorter wavelength though—spanning between a fraction of an inch to a foot. In contrast radio waves used in broadcast could have wavelengths of a mile or longer.
It turns out that the human head is a very efficient antenna for these microwaves. The auditory cortex reacts to microwave exposure to create sensations of sound. It may well be that someone bathed the U.S. consulates in Cuba and China with microwaves to create the conditions reported by the workers.
What’s next? A home hearing test done by leaning in to the home microwave while it cooks your TV dinner?
Broad W. (2018) Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers. New York Times September 1.
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