Spotlight on Science: Microwaves.

No, I’m not talking about the actual waves themselves, but in fact the machine that zaps our food, because that is hella cool and I had enough people tell me during school that I’d get eye cancer by watching my food through the grill to make an entire post about it.

Of course, the machine itself uses microwaves to cause the polar molecules in your food to rotate and make your food hot. It’s called dielectric heating, and it easier in high water content foods than non (due to water being a polar molecule). Also, they’re incredibly swish looking:

Searching “sexy microwave oven” on Google Images makes things like this come up.

Wait, hang on, it gets better. Microwave ovens are very retro; they were invented just after World War II from radar technology. Using magnetrons. It was discovered when Percy Spencer was working on an active radar set and a chocolate bar in his pocket started to melt. He then tried to aim these microwaves at different places – cooking popcorn and exploding eggs.

The original microwave oven was called the RadarangeIt was 1.8m tall (Haven’t you always wanted a microwave oven taller than you?) and cost the equivalent of OVER 50,000 USD.

Microwave ovens heat up water but they’re also pretty good at heating up fatty foods, so that’s why you can “fry” bacon in a microwave. They don’t heat food from the inside out, but from the “top water layer” out – so if the crust of something e.g. a pie is low in water and the center is high in water, you should probably blow on the inside of the pie even if the lid seems okay.

So what is dangerous about a microwave? (Can it give you cancer or were all my primary school friends lying to me?)

Well, you can get some superheating of liquids in a container with a smooth surface. The smoothness means that bubbles don’t really surface, but when you touch it this starts pretty explosively. May cause scalding.

Closed containers explode. Eggs, grapes, potatoes. EITHER prick them, OR do this on purpose. It’s up to you.

If you turn a microwave on for hours and walk away, things will catch on fire. May cause burning.


If you’ve got dehydrated food or like a wheat bag in there, an overload might happen. So put in a glass of water with that, so the microwaves don’t reflect and form a standing wave.

Thanks to the fact that people who designed microwaves DON’T SUCK, you can’t get exposed to microwaves. FURTHERMORE, non-ionizing radiation, i.e. what microwaves are can’t give you cancer.

But, you know, don’t make your microwave work without the door shut, and don’t put your baby in there (or someone else’s baby: “The babysitter eventually admitted to placing the child in the microwave for about sixty seconds” is not a phrase I ever want tor read again) (Frost, Joe L. (30 September 2001). Children and Injuries. Lawyers & Judges Publishing. p. 593. ISBN 0-913875-96-1, 978-0-913875-96-4)

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