The effects of Electrosmog on violins

March 23, 2017 at 01:33 PM · Man-made electrical and electromagnetic fields are everywhere: high voltage power lines, cellphone repeater antennas, radio and TV transmitters and repeaters.

Indoors, wiring inside the walls, micro-wave ovens, TV sets, computers, cordless telephones, even clock radios emit electrical fields which criss-cross our homes constantly, even when the appliances are turned off. In public buildings, miles of wiring at high voltage also produce electrical and magnetic fields proportionate to the voltage and consumption.

All of this is what is commonly known as EMR or electrosmog, widely suspected to cause damage in living organisms: and research shows that ambient levels are continually increasing. Especially recognized as potentially dangerous are:

- Mobile phone repeaters at a distance of less than 100 meters, or more if in line of sight;

- High-voltage powerlines which emit strong radiation at about 50 Hz up to 50-100 meters;

- Home and office wiring within the walls, which forms an electrical field that extends to 30cm and a magnetic field that extends to 50cm.

What is less known is the destructive effects these electromagnetic waves can have on string instruments. Electromagnetic energy, at certain wavelengths and intensities, could theoretically cause the wood cells to enter into resonant vibration. While not detectable to the naked eye, this vibration could cause the cellulose to weaken through fatigue, in the long term causing a loss of sound quality and a gradual enfeeblement of the structure of the instrument.

Do any fellow v.comers have any further information, or have done research on this subject?

Replies (41)

March 23, 2017 at 04:24 PM · When cell phones first came out there were some people who were afraid of them because of the radio waves around your head while using them or the possibility of radiation around private parts when phone is in pocket or on belt. I do not see many people taking these dangers very seriously anymore.I have not previously thought of various energy waves being harmful to my instruments, interesting idea here.

My house is full of instruments and they often faintly ring when people talk, cough, sneeze, the dogs bark etc.

March 23, 2017 at 05:23 PM · "Electrosmog" really isn't suspected to cause damage in living organisms I'm afraid, and I would doubt that it could damage an instrument as well.

Electromagnetic fields really only have an impact on metals or magnetic materials, and the wood in your violin is neither, hence it is safe.

March 23, 2017 at 06:54 PM · Maybe if you stored your violin in an MRI machine. I'd be interested to see some convincing evidence on any of your claims.

March 23, 2017 at 08:39 PM · Ok, let me help you out here.

I am a physicist, so I can address your concerns.

first of all, "electrosmog" is NOT widely tought to cause effects in living beings. There is absolutely no consensus that low frequency magnetic waves are bad for health. No suspicion as well - PERIOD. The dangers you refer are restrict to very high power sources of radio frequency, which will heat water molecules in our body. This can be hamful because it might deregulate some biological processes and interfer with the growth of neural networks (but again, VERY HIGH POWER).

Now to your answer: low frequency electromagnetic interference does not deteriorate carbonic chains. The reasoning for this is rather simple: molecules have typical sizes of micrometers. Low-energy electromagnetic waves have at least a couple of centimeters (yes, your cellphone generate waves with about 2 cm length).

Because the cells inside the wood are very small, they do not ressonate with such a large wavelenght electromagnetic wave.

Second: because wood is not conductive, you will not heat the instrument due to induced currents in the surface.

As another point, low frequency electromagnetic waves do not really heat water (which require a very peculiar wave to be heated), so as long as you dont put your violin in a microwave oven, you don't need to worry about it.

As a last point, you don't really need to worry too much about low dosage of ionizing radiation (x-rays) as well, because (a) your instrument is dead (no problems if you damage its DNA) and (b) the chain molecules of organic compounds are soft, and accomodate for highly energetic ions. However, if you place your violin near a enriched-uranium reactor core for too long, you can expect the wood to fall appart after some time.

if you want to get the answer in more technical, consise terms, they are:

hw << kT if T = 300 K and w < 10^10 rad/s

March 23, 2017 at 08:53 PM · "However, if you place your violin near an enriched uranium reactor core for too long, you can expect the wood to fall apart after some time."

Uh Oh. Now you tell me.

March 23, 2017 at 11:52 PM · I could not find the user manual for my new smart phone usage to fact check but I thought there was a warning in there someplace about talking on the phone for long periods of time being next to your skull. I did just check on health and cell phone usage and the general consensus is that there is no evidence of problems from usage. But there are also cited a few studies that do show increased disease from usage in certain groups. Call me old fashioned but I think that there is a potential for harm to oneself with long term use of these devices. When I was a kid there was doctors saying that smoking was good for whatever ailed you and an effective aid in digestion, and earaches and such. I think with time and data our knowledge on difficult subjects can drastically change in unanticipated ways.

March 24, 2017 at 06:53 AM · Thank you, Bruno, this is exactly the type of answer I was looking for. Your response greatly clarifies the situation regarding string instruments.

I was particularly concerned with indoor electrical power wiring. In the States it's at 110V, but in Europe it's 220V and in larger applications (like my workshop) we have 380V tri-phase. (no, you don't want to stick your finger in that socket!)

While at this point off-topic, I just wanted to confirm that there is indeed concern about the effects of electrosmog on living organisms.

From Wikipedia: "There are publications which support the existence of complex biological effects of weaker non-thermal electromagnetic fields (see Bioelectromagnetics), including weak ELF magnetic fields[8][9] and modulated RF and microwave fields.[10] Fundamental mechanisms of the interaction between biological material and electromagnetic fields at non-thermal levels are not fully understood.[11]

"A 2009 study at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that intermittent (but not continuous) exposure of human cells to a 50 Hz electromagnetic field at a flux density of 1 mT (or 10 G) induced a slight but significant increase of DNA fragmentation in the Comet assay.[12] However that level of exposure is already above current established safety exposure limits.[13]"

March 24, 2017 at 12:30 PM · How far above, twice, 50, 1000 times?

March 24, 2017 at 04:27 PM · Why is any of this relevant, especially to a violin?

It's not going away.

Besides, if people are so worried about their health, they should worry about what is killing everyone else: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, accidents, suicides from handguns, idiots texting and driving.

March 25, 2017 at 03:37 AM · Interesting political ploy there bringing up gun control Scott...

March 25, 2017 at 10:02 AM · I am covering my violin with tinfoil.

March 25, 2017 at 10:59 AM · I hear/read rather often "we have no evidence.." Can we be sure that the expert in question has actually looked for any?

March 25, 2017 at 02:46 PM · It wasn't a political ploy. Just statistics.

March 25, 2017 at 02:53 PM · Absence of evidence or an absence of looking for evidence is not proof of anything. You can't point to an absence and say, well, that means it is/ could be/ might be the reality.

March 25, 2017 at 05:01 PM · Im sorry, jessy. You are absolutely wrong.

Ill go out of my way just to educate you on this topic, because i think everyone should understand how science works. It is important for society as a whole.

The burden of proof always lies on the person that makes the claim. If no evidence is found, the claim is usually false.

This is how science works.

Ill give you an example:

There is a teapot orbiting between earth and mars.

The rational line of tought is "this is an absurd, you can't prove that"

According to you, the reasonable defense for the argument would be "you cannot prove there is not a teapot there". In this case i dont prove my claim, but i stop it from being dusproved as well.

This is just bad science.

And concerning those studies that say there are adverse effects, i challenge you to find an independent study reproducing any of those claims. Again, this is how science works. If no one can reproduce your research, you did something wrong.

As a last point: lack of evidence is a very compelling and important result. And a demonstration as well. If a study proposes to check a fact and find lack of evidence supporting the hipothesys, the hipothesys is false.

Ill give you a last example: i will claim that air is made of flesh eating bacteria.

There is no evidence of that. According to you, this lack of evidence proves nothing and air might very well be composed by flesh eating bacteria, which is obviously an absurd.

March 25, 2017 at 05:01 PM · Double post. Somethings up with this forum

March 25, 2017 at 11:26 PM · Hmm. I am partially colour-blind: I cannot, ever, disinguish between green and yellow/beige/brown (depending on shade). I have no direct evidence of this difference, and I never will have, but I can deduce frpm other folks' witness that there is one. Green sunglasses (or so they are described) will make a red (!) Coke tin look darker. Redish brownish ones (which look the same to me) will render invisible the supposedly green lettering on my car radio.....

My point is that proper evidence can be unavailable to intelligent folk who are not equipped to recieve it (e.g. radio waves, round earth, evolution,) or who use inappropriate tests (homeopathy?)

"..the claim is usually false" Usually, not necessarily.

March 26, 2017 at 01:46 AM · "Absence of evidence or an absence of looking for evidence is not proof of anything."


I remember the cliche as being, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". One of the people this is attributed to is Carl Sagan.

For example, we don't have evidence of intelligent life existing beyond our planet. At the same time, given the almost infinite number of stars and planets over time, it starts to look almost impossible that this doesn't or hasn't existed somewhere else.

March 26, 2017 at 12:32 PM · Bruce...perhaps I was not clear in my post...but I intended to say what you said as I was responding to Adrians post which asked if anyone looked for evidence and seemed to indicate that you should not refute the original claim because no serious inquiry had been made in that direction.

I was attempting to point out the flaw in that logic but I get really tired of typing on my phone and get lazy.?? You certainly did a much better job and I thank you. I am a HUGE proponent of science and education.

Adrian.."usually, not necessarily." This is true. But the burden of proof lies on the claimant. The claimant can't tell me that I can't dismiss something because I do not have evidence that it does not exist.They have to back their claim with evidence. I mean, I could just claim that I've been wire tapped by Barack Obama and you would have to believe me if that were the case and I would never have to provide evidence!

March 26, 2017 at 03:07 PM · The likelihood is that you HAVE been "wiretapped". The NSA collects and stores vast amounts of communication data, in the event that it might be useful for some purpose at some point.

March 26, 2017 at 03:20 PM · David, not just in the US either. In the UK we have a closely allied organization that did not publicly exist until fairly recently, which does very much the same sort of thing.

March 26, 2017 at 03:32 PM · I stopped doing backups. I rely on NSA to do that for me....

March 26, 2017 at 04:14 PM · Absence of evidence quite often means that, at the current state of technical expertise we lack the capability to measure or even discover whatever is under discussion.

Also, in general it's better to offer to "inform" rather than more condescending "educate." A matter of tone and courtesy (like putting the 'h'in 'thought').

March 26, 2017 at 05:13 PM · Some random thoughts...

A person is exposed to a 45microTeslas (45uT) magnetic field, on average, due to the earth's magnetic field, every day, 24 hours a day.

In contrast, a modern home gives an average exposure of around 0.1uT due to all the electrical appliances.

The earth has an ambient electric field of around 100 volts/meter (100V/m) at its surface.

Walking under a high voltage line puts you in an electric field of about 15V/m and a magnetic field in the nanoTesla range. This magnetic field is 1000 times weaker than the earth's or the home's magnetic field.

The frequency of an alternating field is more critical than just its intensity. Chemicals absorb energy at discrete frequencies. Otherwise the EMR energy just passes through or bounces off.

When encountering EMR energy at a frequency that can be absorbed, very bad things can happen. Or good things, like linseed oil varnish curing when exposed to EMR energy at the ultraviolet frequency range. So mere exposure to EMR does not imply harm.

I worked in the nuclear power industry for some years until over-regulation killed it. If rules for radiation exposure that apply to nuclear plants were applied to several famous government buildings containing granite walls, floors and statues, people would not be allowed inside of those buildings. They would receive radiation exposures that could be hundreds of times higher than what is allowable at the fence line of a nuclear power plant.

People frequently confuse "absence of proof" with "proof of absence". The default position in modern science is one of skepticism. That is, we do not believe a claim for existence of something unless reasoning or evidence based on reproducible observations is offered. Lacking that, the modern scientist must

say "I don't know if that exists or not."

Outright denial of something's existence is a form of an assertion, and would need to be supported by reasoning or evidence based on reproducible observation. In general, this is an extremely difficult task except in the most trivial of cases. This gives rise to the common wisdom, "You cannot prove a negative."

OTOH, we accept negative conclusions all the time without any semblance of absolute proof. Typically, this is based on some probability data or, what the AI community sometimes calls, "fuzzy logic": reasoning based on incomplete observation.

For example, I've never examined a real Strad up close, but I've seen enough pictures of Strads to apply some fuzzy logic to that old, beat up VSO I have with the chippy varnish. I doubt it is a Strad, even though I cannot prove it is not with 100% certainty.

April 21, 2017 at 11:35 AM · Proof or no proof, an Italian court just ruled that excessive use of a mobile phone was cause of a brain tumor, and awarded damages. There's the article in English in today's The Guardian:

This is an issue as Italy is one the leading users of mobile phones, with 142 contracts per 100 people (in the U.S. it's 118) according to the World Bank. Not that I can understand how every man, woman, child, infant, and rest home guest can use an average of 1.4 phones each...

April 21, 2017 at 03:48 PM · If you can prove non-ionizing radiation can cause cancer, you'll win the Nobel prize in medicine and physics!

April 21, 2017 at 08:39 PM · There are in excess of 10,000 papers showing harm from microwaves from the sources mentioned above . It is still Probably not possible, conclusively , to PROVE that smoking causes cancer - always a spoke can be put in the wheel if you are pedantic enough. However the World Health Authority has classified the radiation from 'phones, "smart" meters , routers etc (including power lines) a class 2b carcinogen - that is possibly causing cancer, and many on the committee thought the classification should be class 2a or class 1 - though they do not expect any Nobel prizes.

April 21, 2017 at 08:55 PM · Just to add:

It is astonishing to me that time and again it is precisely the scientist who cannot or will not think straight (and usually condescends to everybody else).

In the 30,s' people used x-rays to fit shoes in shoe shops . They were the greatest wonder of science. A lot of deaths later people actually learnt something else as well as to be very careful with x-rays (or rather they remembered common sense) . They called it the precautionary principle .

The thinking has been after asbestos, smoking, x-rays DDT, the horrors exposed by Rachel Carsons' Silent Spring - maybe we should put the onus of the one proposing a new technology - to prove safety rather than falling into this kind of pit over and over and over again .

The precautionary principle is at least paid lip service to by just about any or every emf or EMR regulator in the world - the main one being the ICNIRP (International Commission on NOn- ionising Radiation protection). They started with the heating-only hypothesis for microwave radiation and non-ionising emfs, according to which harm could only be caused by significant heating of body tissue (more than 1 degree C) . This hypothesis has been blown sky-high by literally thousands of papers showing harm at levels much lower than this. The industry and regulators continue to push this standard because the multi-trillion dollar industry cannot have a chink in the armour of their position that these radiations are safe. It is a lie.

In science you only need one paper to falsify a thesis . Papers will be wrong or poorly designed or untrustworthy for some reason or other. But you NEVER get thousands of papers invalidating the CLAIM (you are the ones making the claim as the precautionary principle clearly says) - that a technology is safe and that technology being safe.

That position has already been falsified for all time. As so often, scientists are the last ones to know about or admit this.

April 22, 2017 at 12:17 AM · Interesting article Dimitri.

Welcome to Sylvan. I like your two posts and agree with you. I have posted before that I think cell phones have the potential to harm some of us with excessive use while other very learned people with advanced degrees in science say there is nothing wrong with them. When I was a kid a lot of doctors said there was nothing the matter with smoking either and some even touted the merits of asbestos, charcoal, and fiberglass filters to reduce tars and nicotine exposure.

April 22, 2017 at 01:55 AM · I think we should just all watch Neil Degrasse Tyson's narrative of Cosmo's :)

April 22, 2017 at 01:53 PM · Thanks for the welcome Jess, and glad you agree.

April 25, 2017 at 12:21 AM · Wouldn't you worry about the effect on yourself first before your violin though? :|

April 27, 2017 at 09:39 AM · Sylvan, I've been following this sorry saga for some time and I couldn't have summarised it better. If anyone is in any doubt (Jason?) take a look at the US National Toxicology Program's recently released cancer study. They were so concerned at the implications for public health that they released some results ahead of publication - very strong evidence that phone radiation causes brain cancer and DNA damage. And the increasing epidemiological evidence connecting phones and brain cancer. The thousands of papers Sylvan refers to suggest that this is just the tip of a large and very smelly iceberg.

So I would agree that the effect on the player should be of more concern that the effect on the instrument.

April 27, 2017 at 10:29 AM · "It is astonishing to me that time and again it is precisely the scientist who cannot or will not think straight (and usually condescends to everybody else)."

Well, this is just as well formulated as sentences like "the chinese are smarter" "the mexicans cant think straight" or all the other nonsense.

Science is trying to get conclusions from experiment or theory and than falsify it. Not everybody doing any experiment is a scientist and not all scientists work on the same level of quality. In general, only trust any paper that calculated the statistical errors on the outcome, because only they did science. Everything else is as valid as anything an old guy you dont know tells you after 10 beers in a bar.

That beeing said, I will add another unscientific opinion. I think there should be a series reevaluation on the harms to a human body that has enough resources to do a full research and not beeing critically watched by lobyists. However I dont think it is harming your instrument any more than playing it or getting sound resonances from other surounding sounds. Maybe we should do a quick dimension analysis to see if the energy commited can harm wood over a long period of time.

DNA is a totally different topic because of the copying process that can be disrupted easily and is multiplying every mistake heavily.

April 27, 2017 at 11:32 PM · I'm not a physicist. I'm educated as a lawyer, but I'm not really a practicing lawyer either. I was a military radar technician nearly 50 years ago and as a result I have followed the “microwave debate” with interest in the years since. I also worked most of my career in telecom and sometimes would read IEEE articles on “spread spectrum” data transmission. It struck me that the only limit on the amount of data we could transmit was the energy density in our environment that we were willing to tolerate. Some would cite Shannon and Weaver in response to this but I generally disagree. What we know for certain is that wireless technology and its continuing growth involve very large profit streams. Thus, the motive for obscuring any adverse effects from this technology is very strong. Here in the US, we've tended to privatize and politicize science (see Philip Mirowski). Who pays for the research and decides which scientific results get published and which get filed away and ignored? It's a rhetorical question: the industry pays and the industry decides. Personally, I try to minimize my RF and microwave exposure: the WiFi capable modem that AT&T provided me with its U-Verse service has the WiFi disabled. I like wired connections. I carry a cellphone for emergencies, but use it sparingly. As a realist, I regard all this as a rearguard action in a losing battle against wireless growth. But this is the first time I've encountered any concern re RF and microwave effects on violins. It seems far-fetched at least at first glance. Tinfoil instrument cases, anyone?

April 28, 2017 at 12:27 AM · I am not too worried about the possible effects from cell phone use and being around microwave ovens and high voltage electricity transmission lines on my health but I do think that there is a potential for some kind of health issues here. I have never given a thought as to effects on non living matter from these power sources but I can certainly understand where Mr. Musafia is coming from in instrument protection as I think he makes the best violin case out there in my opinion. Maybe a thin coat of aluminum foil might be a good idea in the case.

After reading the new thread here on Tartini tones I realize how uneducated I really am as I understand virtually none of whatever? Marc and Carmen and others are talking about sine 1w1(w2)3w3.... But even with no basic understanding of radiation and sound and that type of energy I still innately sense a need for caution and moderation around this stuff.

April 28, 2017 at 05:44 AM · Thank you, Jeff. John, I believe you are right about who decides what we get to know and what we don't. That's the price to pay for our, ehm, freedom.

Anyway, it's only through asking questions that we can make progress.

April 28, 2017 at 06:13 AM · "privatize and politicize science"

Indeed a problem. I like to differ between researches and science. Only free researches where you can publish results that are the exact opposit of what was expected to show can be science

April 28, 2017 at 06:22 AM · Asking questions must be allowed at any topic. Alltough I dont expect it to be a problem (I surely cant do more than expecting) it is indeed a valid question to ask and I dont think anybody in here wanted yoz to not ask that question.

Do you know typical dimensions and density of the wood cells? Also on a finer structure, how is the cellulose ordered? I mean by that we could indicate wavelengths needed for resonances and look if the are typically around.

April 28, 2017 at 03:13 PM · I know nothing about this - but I'm not going to worry about ambient microwave effects on violins until I see wooden homes start to crumble from that cause.

April 28, 2017 at 05:03 PM · Maybe the house just looses the sound and his good response (as some very old violins). Maybe a stronger bass bar can help the house though.

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