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Radio Wave Interference

Radio Wave Interference

Astronomers and astrophysicists collect signals from outer space using electromagnetic waves. A common problem for astrophysicists is the “pollution” from electromagnetic radiation pervading our surroundings from communication systems in general. Even everyday gadgets like our car keys having the facility to lock car doors remotely and being able to turn TVs on and off using remotes involve radio-wave frequencies. In order to prevent interference between all these electromagnetic signals, strict regulations are drawn up for different organizations to utilize different radio frequency bands.

One reason why we are sometimes asked to switch off our mobile phones (operating in the range of 1.9 GHz) on airplanes and in hospitals is that important communications or medical equipment often uses similar radio frequencies and their operation can be affected by frequencies used in the communication devices.

For example, radio waves used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have frequencies on the order of 100 MHz, although this varies significantly depending on the strength of the magnetic field used and the nuclear type being scanned. MRI is an important medical imaging and research tool, producing highly detailed two- and three-dimensional images. Radio waves are broadcast, absorbed, and reemitted in a resonance process that is sensitive to the density of nuclei (usually protons or hydrogen nuclei).

The wavelength of 100-MHz radio waves is 3 m, yet using the sensitivity of the resonant frequency to the magnetic field strength, details smaller than a millimeter can be imaged. This is a good example of an exception to a rule of thumb (in this case, the rubric that details much smaller than the probe’s wavelength cannot be detected). The intensity of the radio waves used in MRI presents little or no hazard to human health.

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