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1, JANUARY 1980 67

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The Microwave Auditory Phenomenon


Abstrrrct-When human subjects are exposed to rectangular pulses of microwave radiation, an audible sound occurs which appears to
microwave radiation, an audible sound occurs which appears to origi- originate from within or near the head. The sound has been
nate from within or behind the head. It has been shown that electro-
physiological auditory activity may be elicited by exposing the brains described as a click, buzz, or chirp, depending on such factors
of laboratory animalsto rectangular pulses of microwave energy. These as pulsewidth and repetition rate. It has also been shown elec-
results suggest that a microwave auditory phenomenon is evoked by a trophysiologically thatauditory activity may be evoked by
mechanism similar to that responsible for conventional sound reception irradiating the head of laboratory animals withrectangular
and that the primary site of interaction residesperipheral to the pulses of microwave energy. Responses elicitedincatsby
cochlea A compvison of the pressure amplitudes, such as those pro-
duced in a homogeneous planar layer of bnin matter that is irradiated conventional acoustic stimuli and by pulsed microwaves were
by a microwave pulse, indicates that the peak pressure due to thermal similar and both disappeared following disablement of the
expansion is much greater than either radiation pressureor electrostric- cochlea and following death. Cochlear microphonics have
tion. Theoreticalanalysesfor a sphericalbrainbased on thethermo- been recorded from the round window of cats and guinea pigs
elastic mechanism of interaction were found to agree with experimen-
tally observed characteristics and indicate as0 that the induced sound
during irradiation by pulse-modulated 9 18-MHz microwaves.
frequency is only a function of the size and acoustic property of the These results indicated that microwave-induced auditory sen-
brain. A few suggestions have been made for future research aimed at sation is mediated by a mechanism of hearing similar to that
furthering our knowledge on microwave auditory effect and its health responsible for conventional sound perceptionand thatthe
implications. primary site of interaction lies distal to the cochlea. A periph-
eral response to microwave pulses should involve mechanical
I. INTRODUCTION displacement of the tissues of the head with resultant dynamic
N RECENT YEARSmanyinvestigators have studied the effects on thecochlea.
auditory effects produced in humans and in animals by ap- The exposure of solid materials, as well as liquids and gases,
propriately modulated microwave energy [ 1 ] - [ l o ] . It has to pulse-modulated microwave sources,and the resulting de-
been found that when human subjects are exposed to pulsed velopment of acoustic or elastic waves have been described, to
some extent, in the literature [ 51 , [ 1 11- [ 151 . A comparison
of the calculated pressure amplitude producedin a semi-
Manuscript received April 13, 1979; revised July 13, 1979. This work infinite layer of homogeneous brain material that is irradiated
was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research and the National by a microwave pulse indicates that the peak pressure due to
Science Foundation.
The author is with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engi- thermoelastic expansion is much greater than either radiation
neering, Wayne State University, Detroit,MI 48202. pressure or electrostriction [ 11 , [ 5 1 .

O 1980 IEEE

A theoretical model based on the thermoelastic mechanism

of interaction developed for spherical heads that are irradiated
by pulsed microwave energyindicates that the frequency of
theauditory signal is a function of the size and acoustic
property of the brain tissues in the head [ 161-[ 191. In addi-
tion,it has been foundthatthe experimentally observed
characteristics agree with theoretical predictions in regard to
pulsewidth and frequency of impinging microwaves, pattern of

absorbed microwave energy, frequency of vibration, and

threshold of sensation [ IO].
Thispapersummarizes the experimental evidence that has
beengenerated on the subjectandpays special attention to Fig. 1. Experimental arrangement for investigating microwave auditory
phenomenon in human subjects [ 1 1.
physicalmechanisms forthe conversion of microwaves to
auditory signals. It also concentratesonthe correlation be-
tween experimental observationsand theoreticalpredictions TABLE 1
based on thermoelastic pressure production in a homogeneous THRESHOLD FOR MICROWAVE-INDUCED AUDITORY EFFECT I N HUMAN
spherical model of the head. It contains a few suggestions for SUBJECTS (45 dB BACKGROUND NOISE, 2450 MHz)
future research aimed atfurtheringourunderstanding of
microwave interaction with the auditory systems of animals Pulsewidth Peak power
Peak SAR* Average power
OlS) W/cm2) W/P) Reference
and humans and briefly commentsonthe probability that
microwave auditoryphenomenon mightbecomea potential 1 40 16 120 151
health problem. 2 20 8 120 I51
4 10 4 120 151
EVIDENCE 5 8 3.2 120 VI
5 2.5 1.0 25 I91
Human Perception 10 4 1.6 120 151
Short rectangular pulses of microwave radiation that impinge 10 1.3 0.5 26 91
15 2.33 0.93 105 151
on the head of human subjects produce audible sounds. This 5 2.0
15 150 (91
was demonstrated by placing the subjects head directlyin 20 2.15 0.86 129 151
front of a horn antenna in a shielded room lined with micro- 32 1.25 0.5 120 151
wave absorbingmaterials (Fig. 1). The subject was isolated
*Peak SAR (specific absorption rate) is based on absorption in equiv-
from microwave generating equipment and the experimenter. alent spherical model of the head I 301.
In order to minimize disturbing noises, the subject used a light
switch to signal the experimenter when an auditory sensation
was perceived [ 11. It was found that 1- to 32-ps wide 2450- from 1 to 100 ps. The microwave-induced sound appeared as
MHz microwave pulses could be heard as distinct clicks an audible click, buzz or chirp depending on such factors as
originating from within o r immediately behind the head. The pulsewidthand pulse repetitionfrequency of the impinging
peak power density varied from 1 W/cm2 to 40 W/cm2 with radiation, and usually is perceived as originating from within or
an average incident power density of 0.1 mW/cmz atthe near the back of the head.
threshold of sensation(Table I). Short pulse trainscouldbe
heard as chirps withthetone corresponding tothe pulse Animal Response
repetitionfrequency.The average powerrequired to elicit Considerable effort has been devoted to acquiring confirma-
a response in a subject with sensori-neural conduction impair- tory data in lower animals. The first part of this section will
ment near 3.5 kHz was approximately four times that required review the behavioral basis for microwave-induced auditory
for a subject with normal hearing [ 41, [ 51. phenomenon in mammals. The second part of this section will
Using a slightly different arrangement, human subjects were summarize the electrophysiologicalobservations thatdocu-
found to perceive buzzing or poppingsensationswhen ex- ment microwave auditory effects.
posed to 200- to 3000-MHz microwave pulses at average That microwave pulses are acoustically perceptible and can
incident power densities of 0.4 to 2 mW/cm2 and peak power serve as a discriminative auditory cue in behavioral situations
densities on the order of 300 mW/cm2. The pulse repetition is supported by the works of several investigators. Food-
frequencies ranged from 200 to 400 Hz. The sensation oc- deprived laboratoryrats were trainedtomake aspecific
curred instantaneously regardless of the subjects orientation response to obtainfoodonly during presentation of an
in the microwave field. Furthermore, it had a direct correla- audible cue (3-ps wide 7.5-kHz acoustic pulse, 10 pps). After
tionwiththe subjects ability to perceive acousticenergy the behavior was conditioned to acoustic stimulus, 918-MHz
above approximately 5 kHz by bone conduction [ 21, [ 21 1, microwave pulses (from a squareapertureantennaat an
[22]. Subjects with an inordinate amount of hearing loss at average incidentpowerdensity of 15 mW/cmz, 1 0 - p ~pulse-
frequencies above 8 kHz also had difficulty perceiving width, 10 pps) were surreptitiously substituted for the acoustic
microwave-induced sound [ 91. stimulus. These animals showed continued ability to perform
These studiesdemonstratethathuman beings perceive an correctly on thediscriminative task when presented with either
auditory sensation when the head is exposed to rectangular the acoustic or microwave cue [23]. This is consistent with
pulse-modulated microwave with peak incident power densities the finding that rats displayed avoidance behavior to a pulsed
on the order of 300 mW/cm2, and average power densities as microwave field (2880-MHz 2.3-p~pulsewidth at an average
low as 0.1 mW/cm2. The frequencies of these microwaves incident power density of 10 mW/cm2, 100 pps) as well as a
ranged from 200 to 3000 MHz, while the pulsewidth varied sonic field of a 37.5-kHz acoustic tone [ 241.


Fig. 3. Primary auditorycortexresponseinthecat to acousticand
microwave pulses [ 61.


Fig. 2 . Arrangement of equipmentused to test microwaveauditory

effects in laboratory animals.

Clearly, microwave pulses interact with the auditory system

andare perceived by laboratory rats in the same manner as
conventional acoustic pulses. Itshould be noted, however,
that thesebehavioral studies rely on inference ratherthan
direct measure of the anatomical or physiological entities that
are involved in a microwave pulse interaction with the auditory
I V 2 1 1L
system. They should therefore be complemented by direct
observations in identifying theanatomicalor physiological Fig. 4. Acoustic andmicrowave pulseevoked responses from auditory
substrates. Such observations, which would contribute toward nuclei in the cat. MG-medial geniculate body; IC-inferior colliculus;
definition of the characteristics,mechanisms,andsite of LL-lateral lemniscus: SOsuperior olive.
transduction of this phenomenon, have indeedbeen made
through direct neurophysiological investigations.
There are numerous areas along the auditory pathway where
microelectrodes may be implanted to record electrical poten-
tials arising in response to acoustic pulse stimulation. If the
electrical potentials elicitedby microwave pulses exhibit
characteristics akin to those evoked by conventional acoustic
pulses, it then would vigorously support the behavioral find-
ings that pulsed microwaves areacousticallyperceptible. If
microwaveevoked potentials are recorded from each of those Fig. 5. Auditory newe responsefromacat exposed to acousticand
loci,this would thenfurthersupportthecontentionthat microwave pulses [ 61.
microwave auditory phenomenon is mediated at the periphery,
as is the sensation of conventional acoustic stimulus.
Microwaveevokedneuralelectricalactivities have been re-
cordedfrom five levels of thecentralauditorysystem, i.e.
primary auditorycortex, medialgeniculatenucleus, inferior
colliculus nucleus,laterallemniscusnucleus, and superior
olivary nucleus. Microwave energy was applied tothe head
using hornantennas,apertureradiators,and direct contact
applicators operating between 900 and 3000 MHz. Rectangu-
lar pulses with pulsewidths of 1 to 32 ps were presented at
repetition rates of 1 to lOO/s and at peak incident power den-
sities ontheorder of 1 W/cmZ. A typical experimental 0.2MS
arrangement is illustrated in Fig. 2 which shows the anatomical Fig. 6 . Cochlerround window recording of thecatinresponse to
placement and configuration of microwave, acoustic, and signal acoustic
stimulation. Note cochlearmicro-
conditioning equipment. phonics preceedings N, responses [ 71.
Recordings from electrodes placed on the primary auditory
cortex of anesthetized cats [ 6 ] and guinea pigs [ 2 5 ] following [ 101, [261, and the superior olivary nucleus of cats [ l o ] , [261
surgical removal of overlying soft tissue and bony structures in response to both microwave and acoustic pulse stimulation
showed remarkablesimilarity between microwave pulse and (Fig. 4).
acoustic pulse evoked signals (Fig. 3). The acousticstimuli By modifying the surgical procedures used to record electri-
were rectangular pulses 10 ps in duration. Essentially identical cal activities fromthecentralauditoryelements,compound
activities also were recorded fromthe medialgeniculate action potentials were recorded from the auditory branch of
nucleus [4]-[6], [ 101, [ 2 6 ] , fromthe inferiorcolliculus the eighth cranial nerve (Fig. 5) and from the cochlear round
nucleus [9], [20], [26], fromthe lateral lemniscus nucleus window (Fig. 6) of cats [61. As can be seen from Fig. 6 , the



Fig. 7. Acousticandmicrowavepulseevokedbrainstem potentials

from vertex of the cat.

classical N 1 and N? components of the auditory nerve action

potential arepresentin boththe microwave and acoustic
cases. Furthermore, brainstem potentials were evoked by
microwave pulses from guinea pigs [251 and from cats [ 101, 4 6 8 10
[ 261 and their characteristics were comparable to those evoked SPHERICAL H E M RADIUS (CM)
by conventional acoustic pulses (Fig. 7). Many single auditory Fig. 8. Comparison of computedfundamentalsoundfrequencyand
neurons in the cat also demonstrated a response to microwave measured cochlear microphonic frequencies [ 201.
pulses that was similar tothe response to acoustic pulses
[271,[281. wave pulses is closely related to the ability toperceive acoustic
Theseelectrophysiological activities recorded fromcentral signals through bone conduction.
andperipheral portions of theauditory systemimply that
microwave and acoustic pulses affect the auditory systemin 111. MECHANISMOF INTERACTION
the same manner and suggest a similar mode of interaction Several transduction mechanisms have been suggested involv-
operating in boththe microwave andthe acoustic cases. ing mechanicaldisplacement of the cranium for microwave
This interpretation has beenaugmentedby the observations induced auditory sensation [ l ] , (51, [14], [15]. A compari-
made in systematic studiesof auditory loci through production son of the most likely candidates revealed that thermoelastic
of lesion in ipsilateral auditory nuclei and bilateral ablation of expansion is the mosteffectivemechanism since pressure
the cochlea, the known first stage of transduction for sonic generated by thermoelastic stress in brain tissues may be one
energy. Successive lesion production in the inferior colliculus thousand timesgreater than the other possible mechanisms.
nucleus, lateral lemniscus nucleus and superior olivary nucleus A detailed analysis of the acoustic signals generated inthe
resulted in a drastic reduction of response amplitudes recorded heads of animals and humans exposed to plane wave micro-
from these nuclei [ 261, [ 271. The effect of cochlear disable- wave pulses has been developedbyconsideringaspherical
ment was abolishment of all potentials recorded from three head consisting only of brain matter [ 1I , [ 161-[ 191. It sug-
levels of the auditorynervous system (primary auditory cortex, gested the
that minuscule "C/s) but rapid rise
medialgeniculatenucleus, eighth nerve) evoked by both ("10 ccs) of temperature in the brain as a result of microwave
microwave and acoustic energy [61. These data indicate that energy absorption creates thermoelastic expansion of the
the site of initial interaction of pulse-modulated microwave brain matter which then launches an acoustic wave of pressure
energy with the auditory system is distal to the cochlea. that is detected by the hair cells in the cochlea via bone
A peripheral interaction should involve displacement of the conduction.
tissues in the head with resultant dynamic effect in the coch- It was shown that there are an infinite number of resonant
learfluidsandnervoussystemconsequences that have been frequency, each corresponding to a mode of vibration of the
well described forthe sonic case. However, cochlear micro- spherical brain. The frequency of vibration was found to be
phonics, the signature of mechanical distortion of cochlear independent of microwave absorption pattern; it was only a
hair cells, had for a long time eluded investigators. This had function of radiusand acousticproperties of the spherical
led to the speculation that microwave pulses, in contrast to brain. Specifically, the fundamental frequencies of vibration
conventionalacousticpulses,might not act on any receptor are given by
prior to the inner ear apparatus.
The existence of cochlear microphonics has been elegantly fc = 0.72 v/a constrained
surface (1)
demonstrated in cats and guinea pigs [ 71, [ 81 using cylindrical fs = 0.50 v/a stress-free surface (2)
waveguides that efficiently couple impinging microwave energy
into the head of the experimental animals. Fig. 8 illustrates where u is the velocity of acoustic wave propagation and u is
the evoked potentials recorded from the round window of a the radius of the spherical brain. These results suggested that
guinea pig. The cochlear microphonic preceded the well- thefrequency of sound perceived bya subject exposed to
defined N1 and Nz auditory nerve responses and immediately microwave pulses are the same regardless of the frequency of
followed the microwave pulse artifact. Following death of the the impinging microwaves. This has been corroborated by the
animal, whether by anoxia or bydrugoverdose, microwave observation thatthe same frequency andcochlearmicro-
evoked nerve responses disappeared before the cochlear phonics were inducedby 918-and 2450-MHz microwaves
microphonic. Thus microwave auditoryphenomenon is ac- [ 81 , and the evoked auditory responses have similar time char-
companiedbymechanical disturbance of hair cells, and is acters as the location of a direct contact microwave applicator
mediated by an electromechanical interaction that is initiated is moved around the head of a cat [ 101, [ 261.
distal to the cochlea. Moreover, psychophysical studies have Fig. 8 shows a comparison of computed fundamental sound
shown that the ability of a human subject to perceive micro- frequency and measured cochlear microphonic frequency [ 71,

0.1 1.0 10 50
Fig. 10. Theinfluence of pulsewidth on microwave induced soundin
the cat 1201.

Fig. 9. Computed acoustic pressure in a spherical model of a catsize of the spherical brain, u is velocity of acoustic wave propaga-
(3-cm radius) brain exposed t o 2450-MHzradiationataSAR of
1 Wlg [181. tion, and A,, H, , U0,and G are constants related to the
thermoelastic properties of brain tissue and peak specific
absorptionrate(SAR) [ 11, [ 181.The broken line shows
[ 81 , [ 201. It is seen that the measured data, although limited,
the variation of microwave-induced auditory brainstemre-
follow closely the predicted sound frequenciesin cats and
sponse in cats with the width of impinging microwave pulses
guinea pigs. The computed frequency of sound in the human
[20] while holding constantthe peakpowerand repetition
brain ranged from 7 to 18 kHz for different radii.Although
rate. Even though the fit is not exact, the correlation is un-
direct experimentaldata are not available, pertinent results
mistakable. Predicted sound pressure and measured potentials
have indicated the ability to hear short microwave pulses were
both show that increasing the pulsewidth increases the ampli-
correlated with human hearing at higher frequencies [ 1 ] , [ 21 ,
tudes to a plateau with subsequent oscillation. An equivalent
observation was that increasing the pulsewidth decreases the
Thecomputed sound pressure level thresholdrequired for
SAR required to elicit a threshold auditory brainstem response
human subjects to just perceive a microwave pulse-generated
[33]. Thenonmonotonic dependence of the response 01
sound is about 6 2 d B relative to 0.0002 dyne/cm* [ 181. The
microwave pulsewidth has also been demonstrated insome
minimum audible sound pressure for bone conduction is about
single auditoryneurons in the cat [ 2 7 ] , [ 281.It is similar
60 dB at frequenciesbetween6and14 kHz [ 3 11, [ 321.
to the effect of pulsewidth on the cochlear microphonic and
Clearly, there is agreement between theory and measurement.
auditory nerve responses of cats exposed to pulses of ultra-
Moreover, assuming that perception by bone conductionfor
sonic radiation [ 3 4 ] , as well as responses of primary auditory
cats is the same as for humans, the minimum audible sound
fibers to acoustic pulses [35]. Thus there exists an impressive
pressure at 30 kHz is about120 dB. It was foundthat at
array of evidence that rigorously substantiatesthethermo-
thresholdpeak incident powerdensities, the computed peak
elastic mechanism of microwave-induced auditory effect.
pressure amplitude was about100 dB [ 181.Thusthe pre-
dicted threshold incident powerdensity is close to the mea- IV. HEALTH RISK
sured value. Fig. 9 shows the acoustic pressure ina cat-size
spherical brain exposed to 2450-MHz radiation as a function The studies concerning microwave hearing phenomenon have
of time for a10-ps pulse [ 181 . The pressure is greatestin emphasized demonstration of auditory responses and delinea-
the center of the brain because the absorbed energy is greatest tion of interactivemechanisms. This attention is warranted
at this point. inasmuch as the effect is very different from that associated
The influence of pulsewidth on the acoustic pressure ampli- with responses tocontinuous wave radiation. So much so,
tude inside the brain, and therefore on the threshold of audi- that it implied the possibility of significant neurophysiologic
tory perception is shown in Fig. 10. The continuous curve is interaction. Theresultssummarized above document collec-
the calculated peak pressure in a 3-cm radius brain sphere tively that the auditory systems of animals and humans re-
simulating the head of a cat exposed to 2450-MHz radiation spond to pulsed microwaves. They indicate thatthere is
using the expressions [ 181 little likelihood of microwave hearing phenomenon arising
from direct interaction of microwave pulses with the cochlear
1 nerve or neurons at higher structures along the auditory path-
P=UoGt+- AmHm sinwmt, O < t < t o (3) way. Rather, the pulsed microwave energy initiates a thermo-
elastic wave of pressure in brain tissue that activates the inner
1 - earreceptors via bone conduction.Indeed, studies of the
P = UoGto + - AmHm [sin U , t - sin W m ( t - t o ) ] , phenomenonscharacteristics have now reached thepoint
m=l where it is possible to specify with some precision the relation-
t > to (41
ship between microwave parameters such as peak power, pulse-
width and repetition frequency and perceived pitch and loud-
where to is microwave pulsewidth, w, is resonant frequency ness. However, several highly pertinentquestions remain.

Does the microwave auditory phenomenon pose a health risk data are sufficient ar the present time to permit a complete
to an individual?Underwhat conditions does microwave analysis of this problem. The kind of studies that would be
exposure become a hazard? usefulare behavioral investigations of pulsed microwave ex-
The problem of differentiating effect from hazard is enor- posed animals including theeffectsonperformance,and
mous due t o lack of information. Whilewe now have some morphological examinations of the hearing apparatus of ex-
reasonable approximations concerning safe versus hazardous posedanimalsubjects.Finally, it seems appropriate t o indi-
exposuretocontinuous wave radiation, ameaningfulcon- cate that a number of interesting and beneficial applications
sensus regarding pulsed microwave exposure has not yet been of microwave auditory phenomenon have been introduced in
achieved. recent years [ 11 . Thepotentialapplications, however, are
The problem can be approached,in principle, fromthe sufficiently novel that they do not at the present lend to full
equivalency of microwave and acoustic pulseevoked responses elaboration.
and from the perspective of sound exposure on humans. The
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Advances in Microwave-Induced Neuroendocrine

Effects: The Concept of Stress

Abxtmct-Recent evidence indicates thatneuroendocrine effects elicitedcontroversies regarding the setting of exposure stan-
are induced by microwave exposure with a threshold intensity required dards. The suggestion of direct action by low-level microwave
for the onset of the response. The level of that threshold is dependent
upon intensity and duration of exposure. The threshold can vary with exposure on thecentral nervous andtheendocrine systems
the given endocrine parameter studied. The level of that threshold is apart from the wellestablished heating effect of microwaves
yet unclear due to conflicting reports of effect in chronic or repeatedly has raised uncertainties in the characterization of the general
exposed populations of man or experimental animals. The response of effects of exposure to microwave energy.
the endocrine systems appears to be a nonspecific stress reaction in the At all levels of mammalian biological organization adverse
case of adrenocortical and growth hormone changes, butit is apparently
a metabolically specifii response to increased energy input in the case environmentelicitsa complex array of nervous, endocrine,
of pituitary-thyroid changes. neurohumoral, and motor reactions to adjust body fluid bal-
ance, energy metabolism, and behavior to the needs concomi-
tant with survival in a changed environment. The neuroendo-
INTRODUCTION crine system, a complex of hormone secreting glands, and the
UMEROUS biological effects of microwaves have been central nervous system function as a chemical regulatory system
reported in the literature and have been the subject of in mammals to control and regulate metabolism and growth
several reviews. The validity as well as the actual sig- and to protectthebodyfrom endogenous and exogenous
nificance of many of these reported microwave bioeffects have alterations inhomeostasis.
Neuroendocrine function is of considerable importance in
the response of an organism to microwave exposure. However,
Manuscript received May 8, 1979;revised August 7, 1979.
This paper is based on work performed with the U.S. Department of the information available at the present time is not sufficient
Energy at the Department of Radiation Biology and Biophysics Univer- to clarify microwave-induced neuroendocrine effects, duein
sity of Rochester under contract UR-3490-1694,and the U.S. Navy,
Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory. part to insufficient documentation of some of the available
S. T. Lu and S. M. Michaelson are with the Department of Radiation data. Since other reviews [ 11-[41 have providedageneral
Biology and Biophysics, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University survey of thissubjectarea, we will not attempt to reiterate
of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14642.
W. G. Lotz is with the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, whathasbeen covered in those treatises. The objective of
Naval Air Station, Pensacola, FL 32508. this presentation is t o evaluate recent progress in the area of
0018-9219/80/0100-0073$00.75 0 1980 IEEE