eli5: How is RF radiation different to the radiation such as alpha, beta, gamma rays we learn about in school?


How is RF radiation different to the radiation we learn about in school?
What can they penetrate and what can block them?

I looked up articles but i don’t really understand. I’ve been sleeping with my phone under my pillow for 7 years and i need to know if my pillow was enough to block out the RF radiation emitted by my phone or if i have an increased risk in brain cancer.

(Sorry if this is all phrased incorrectly, i’ve been panicking for the past few minutes)

In: Chemistry

RF radiation doesn’t have enough power to damage DNA, unlike alpha/beta/gamma radiation. It might make you feel a bit warm if it’s the right wavelength to excite water molecules, which would be equivalent to sleeping next to a space heater.

The main difference is that RF radiation if not ionizing, while the others are. What this means is that the other radiation you mentioned has the ability to modify parts of the cells in your body. This is what sometimes causes cancer.

RF radiation does not do this. It does not modify cells the way the other radiation does. It does not result in cancer.

If you’re still worried though, just deactivate your WiFi and cellular (and Bluetooth if you want to be 100% sure).

RF radiation is transmitted/mediated by photons, which have nearly zero mass. That means they have very little momentum so they bounce right off of you like a ping pong ball. Alpha and beta are a protons, neutrons, and electrons. They bounce off of you like a fist-sized rock. Gamma rays are like ping pong balls shot from a rifle.

Something that the other replies didn’t really cover is the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.

Ionizing is the dangerous stuff. You know the whole atomic model where you have protons and neutrons in a ball in the middle and electrons orbiting that? Ionizing radiation is capable of stripping off electrons from the atoms it hits.

This can have all kinds of effects, like causing chemical bonds to break. Your body relies on chemical bonds to hold your DNA together, so that’s bad.

Of all the types of ionizing radiation you listed, only gamma radiation is actually electromagnetic radiation. Alpha and beta radiation are actually particles themselves.

Gamma rays, X-rays, and UV rays are dangerous because they’re so energetic. Basically, the photons themselves have a lot of energy – enough to break molecular bonds. They’re just light otherwise. Radio frequency radiation is also just light, but it’s not a frequency you can see – it’s actually less energetic than visible light.

Alpha and Beta radiation are just really fast moving Helium nucleus and electrons respectively. Alpha radiation can be locked by just about anything beta radiation has slightly more penetrating power, but still can be blocked by very simple measures.

These types of radiation are the most dangerous when they happen inside the body. Even your skin stops most of the alpha radiation from reaching the more important parts inside your body.

Gamma rays on the other hand is just a type of electromagnetic radiation, it is the same sort of thing as visible light, radio waves, microwaves etc.

They only differ in the frequency/wavelength. As you can easily tell from looking out the window, visible light can penetrate glass panes but not brick walls. And as you can tell by turning on a radio, radio waves do go through walls.

However just because some type of em waves are able to reach you does not mean that they can hurt you and give you cancer.

Due to all the quantum stuff, the waves have more energy the higher their frequency. Even if there is a lot of low frequency waves they won’t be able to do the same damage that even a little high frequency waves could.

The radiation given of by your phone is able to penetrate your pillow, as you can test by calling the phone while it is covered by a pillow. (it will ring.)

However the frequencies used by the phone mean that it won’t have enough energy to be able to knock apart molecules of your DNA and give you cancer.

There are some worries that it might affect you negatively in other ways like heating up etc, but there is not really definitive evidence about that.

RF and gamma radiation are both electromagnetic waves, but on opposite ends of the spectrum. RF radiation is very low energy, too low to actually make chemical changes to the molecules in your body. It’s very safe. Gamma radiation is very high energy and can damage your cells and your DNA.

Alpha and beta radiation are different, they’re particles. Alpha radiation are helium nuclei and beta radiation are high energy electrons.