Do Cell Phone 'Radiation Shields' Work?
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"Joel, this is Marty Cooper, I'd like you to know that I'm calling you from a cellular phone." Exactly 40 years ago, on April 3, 1973, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper placed this call -- the first ever on a cell phone -- to Joel Engel, his rival at AT&T’s Bell Labs.
Cooper, now 85, made history in downtown Manhattan using the bulky prototype he had developed.
Cooper's prototype arrived on the market a decade later at the staggering price of $3,995. Designed by Rudy Krolopp, it was known as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, or simply "the brick.” Featuring 20 large buttons and a long rubber antenna, it measured about 11 inches high, weighed almost 2 pounds, provided one hour of battery life and could store 30 phone numbers.
Motorola Mobility, LLC
Released in 1984, Nokia’s Mobira Talkman was advertised as one of the first transportable phones. It was sold for use both in and out of a car -- if you could lift it.
Nokia's concept evolved in 1987 with the handheld mobile Mobira Cityman 900. Weighing 28 ounces, it was one of the lightest phones at that time and cost 24,000 Finnish marks ($5,178).
Motorola Mobility, LLC
Ahead of its time, the Motorola MicroTAC was the smallest available phone when it was released in 1989. Featuring the flip-phone form later adopted by the fashionable StarTAC, the first clamshell cellular phone, the MicroTAC was 9 inches long when open and weighed only 12.3 ounces.
Launched in 1992 -- also when the first text message arrived -- the Nokia 101 was the first commercially available GSM mobile phone.
Although it lacked the famous Nokia ringtone, introduced in 1994, it featured a monochrome display and memory for 99 phone numbers. Its design anticipated the successful "candy bar” phones.
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Released in 1993 as a joint creation of IBM and BellSouth, this was the first smartphone. A fax machine, a PDA, a pager and a mobile phone, the IBM Simon featured no physical keys, but used a touchscreen and optional stylus. Amazingly, it included applications such as games, email, a notepad, calculator, world clock, address book and a calendar. It only sold in the United States, for $899.
Launched in 1999, this was the first mobile phone with integrated GPS.
Featuring a large grayscale LCD screen, it offered a 12-channel GPS navigator and maps to trace position. It also sent coordinates via text messages to a list of emergency numbers and featured a "friend find” service to track other Benefon Esc users.
Launched in 2000, the Samsung SPH-M100 Uproar holds its place in history as the first mobile phone capable of storing and playing MP3 files.
Cell phone photography arrived in 2000, with Samsung's SCH-V200, a VGA-camera-equipped phone. Released in South Korea, it featured a digital camera with a 180-degree rotating lens and a maximum resolution of 352 x 288 -- a far cry from the 41-megapixel camera phone that Nokia will release in European markets in May.
Motorola Mobility, LLC
Motorola brought contemporary design to mobile phones with the Razr V3 in 2004. Thin, trendy and stylish, it featured a VGA camera, quad-band compatibility and Bluetooth support.
The phone became an icon. According to Motorola, more than 110 million units sold worldwide.
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The launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007 changed everything. With its unique design, easy-to-use operating system and a multitude of apps to download, the multi- touchscreen phone set the standard for all cell phones to come.
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Once an accessory for the privileged, Martin Cooper's vision is now a staple of life. Today the world has nearly as many mobile phone subscriptions as inhabitants.
Indeed, 6 billion people, out of the world's estimated 7 billion, have access to mobile phones.
Nearly everyone has a cell phone, and that creates a huge potential market for those concerned that electromagnetic fields (EMF) from those phones can cause cancer — a fear which has been around for years.
Some consumers use earpieces instead of holding the cell phones to their heads as they speak; others have purchased special so-called “EMF shields” that can be inserted into cell phones and allegedly block harmful electromagnetic waves.
Earlier this week in the Science section of The New York Times, a full-page ad appeared for something called the Aires Shield, which promises to “neutralize harmful radiation” from your cell phone. According to the Aires promotional material, this radiation can cause depression, stress, headaches, insomnia, depression and even brain cancer.
The device comes in a variety of forms ranging from the $39 Aries Shield (“a silicon based micro processor that … decomposes oscillations of electromagnetic fields”) to the $249 Aires Defender Utility (which “has two next generation 9 core silicon based micro processor (sic) that provide universal protection from electromagnetic smog of the broadband frequencies”).
The Aires web site promotional material includes much discussion of holograms and fractal patterns and energies. The devices are very sleek and dramatic, but there are reasons to suspect that the Aires Shield, like other cell phone EMF shields, is not all it’s touted to be.
For one thing, though the ad calls the product “award winning and clinically approved,” there is no information about — or evidence of — its scientifically proven efficacy. The web site is littered with typographical errors that seem very strange for a multinational, high-tech company.
The company’s “Researches” page, for example, states that “Aires Technologies are more than 12 years (sic). For this period there have been conducted a number of studies on mechanisms of coherent transformers that effect on physical, chemical, technological and biological processes (sic). The studies were carried out in close collaboration with leading research and academic institutions.”
There are few if any references to actual studies in published, peer-reviewed journals that support the claim that Aires, or any other, cell phone shield actually works. The “Researches” page contains a superficially impressive list of sciencey-sounding titles and findings supposedly demonstrating the importance of using cell phone shields, all of them in Russia for some reason.
Most of the research is attributed to “SPSU,” which is presumably St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University, and some of the research, it is suggested, was conducted at the Kirov Military Medical Academy, though it’s unclear why a military academy would conduct clinical research on civilian cell phone radiation. The names of the scientists who conducted these studies are conspicuously absent, as are any published results.
Peppered with random stock photos and illustrations of generic scientists, laboratories and brains, the language on the web site is intentionally dense and complicated, larded with medical jargon. In fact even a cursory glance at a few of the studies reveals red flags suggesting that the information is unreliable.
For example one of the “studies” Aires quotes states that “A living human organism mostly consists of water (by 95% of water at a very young age and by 60% at old age) (sic).”
W. Kim Johnson, a retired physicist and past president of the New Mexico Academy of Science, reviewed the Aires web site for Discovery News and described the material as gibberish, saying that the authors “of the technical description of the ‘Aires’ device reads like a random selection of technical terminology. The working description for this device is made up of jargon that, in the end, really says nothing.”
“For example,” Johnson said, “what does a fractal like pattern have to do with a hologram? The answer is, of course, nothing that is apparent. Then there is a truly convoluted assertion that cell phones can be instrumental in ‘psychoemotional’ effects on humans because of their lower-frequency outputs. This too, is gibberish. In short, this is technobabble that will potentially snow someone who has no science background.”
The fact that their product is referred to as a “gadget” dozens of times in the supposed studies is another sign that something is amiss. Most editors of reputable medical journals frown on authors referring to complicated shielding medical devices as “gadgets.”
The Aires Shield may indeed be a legitimate product, but the information on the company’s web site seems to do its best to cloud its credibility.
Cell Phone Safety
The fact is that EMF shields are unnecessary because cell phones are not dangerous. Scientists cite several reasons why many of the claimed mechanisms by which cell phones and EMFs could harm the body are scientifically implausible.
For one thing, electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones are not strong enough to break the molecular and chemical bonds in human cells, and therefore can’t damage human cells the way ionizing radiation can. Furthermore, electrical fields created inside the body by cell phones are much weaker than fields that occur naturally inside the body.
The following is an excerpt of a typical conclusion published in a scientific journal about the links between EMFs, cell phones and health: “Epidemiologic research shows a low degree of association, inconsistency and missing dose-effect relations. A biologic mechanism of action is still debatable. No harm to human health has been shown. Conclusion: There is no scientific basis as to the harmful effects of EMFs on human health.”
Johnson notes that “the human body is continually exposed to many other low and high frequency electromagnetic radiation sources, both naturally occurring and man-made. Cell phones put out such a low amount of energy that they pale in comparison to normal human exposures to EMR (electromagnetic radiation) sources.”
“In fact,” Johnson said, “there is no repeatable evidence published in mainstream science journals that shows there is any detrimental effect on humans caused by cell phones, though there are many people who have something to sell to you that purport to protect you from something that simply doesn’t appear to exist.”
Photo: Kohei Hara/Getty Images