Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm).[1][2][3][4][5] Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF (millimeter wave) bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz (wavelengths between 0.3 m and 3 mm).[2] In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band (3 to 30 GHz, or 10 to 1 cm) at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

The prefix micro- in microwave is not meant to suggest a wavelength in the micrometer range. Rather, it indicates that microwaves are "small" (having shorter wavelengths), compared to the radio waves used prior to microwave technology. The boundaries between far infrared, terahertz radiation, microwaves, and ultra-high-frequency radio waves are fairly arbitrary and are used variously between different fields of study.

Microwaves travel by line-of-sight; unlike lower frequency radio waves they do not diffract around hills, follow the earth's surface as ground waves, or reflect from the ionosphere, so terrestrial microwave communication links are limited by the visual horizon to about 40 miles (64 km). At the high end of the band they are absorbed by gases in the atmosphere, limiting practical communication distances to around a kilometer. Microwaves are widely used in modern technology, for example in point-to-point communication links, wireless networks, microwave radio relay networks, radar, satellite and spacecraft communication, medical diathermy and cancer treatment, remote sensing, radio astronomy, particle accelerators, spectroscopy, industrial heating, collision avoidance systems, garage door openers and keyless entry systems, and for cooking food in microwave ovens.

Frazier Peak, tower and Honda Element
A telecommunications tower with a variety of dish antennas for microwave relay links on Frazier Peak, Ventura County, California. The apertures of the dishes are covered by plastic sheets (radomes) to keep out moisture.
Atmospheric Microwave Transmittance at Mauna Kea (simulated)
The atmospheric attenuation of microwaves and far infrared radiation in dry air with a precipitable water vapor level of 0.001 mm. The downward spikes in the graph correspond to frequencies at which microwaves are absorbed more strongly. This graph includes a range of frequencies from 0 to 1 THz; the microwaves are the subset in the range between 0.3 and 300 gigahertz.

Electromagnetic spectrum

Microwaves occupy a place in the electromagnetic spectrum with frequency above ordinary radio waves, and below infrared light:

Electromagnetic spectrum
Name Wavelength Frequency (Hz) Photon energy (eV)
Gamma ray < 0.02 nm > 15 EHz > 62.1 keV
X-ray 0.01 nm – 10 nm 30 EHz – 30 PHz 124 keV – 124 eV
Ultraviolet 10 nm – 400 nm 30 PHz – 750 THz 124 eV – 3 eV
Visible light 390 nm – 750 nm 770 THz – 400 THz 3.2 eV – 1.7 eV
Infrared 750 nm – 1 mm 400 THz – 300 GHz 1.7 eV – 1.24 meV
Microwave 1 mm – 1 m 300 GHz – 300 MHz 1.24 meV – 1.24 µeV
Radio 1 mm – 100 km 300 GHz3 kHz 1.24 µeV – 12.4 feV

In descriptions of the electromagnetic spectrum, some sources classify microwaves as radio waves, a subset of the radio wave band; while others classify microwaves and radio waves as distinct types of radiation. This is an arbitrary distinction.


Microwaves travel solely by line-of-sight paths; unlike lower frequency radio waves, they do not travel as ground waves which follow the contour of the Earth, or reflect off the ionosphere (skywaves).[6] Although at the low end of the band they can pass through building walls enough for useful reception, usually rights of way cleared to the first Fresnel zone are required. Therefore, on the surface of the Earth, microwave communication links are limited by the visual horizon to about 30–40 miles (48–64 km). Microwaves are absorbed by moisture in the atmosphere, and the attenuation increases with frequency, becoming a significant factor (rain fade) at the high end of the band. Beginning at about 40 GHz, atmospheric gases also begin to absorb microwaves, so above this frequency microwave transmission is limited to a few kilometers. A spectral band structure causes absorption peaks at specific frequencies (see graph at right). Above 100 GHz, the absorption of electromagnetic radiation by Earth's atmosphere is so great that it is in effect opaque, until the atmosphere becomes transparent again in the so-called infrared and optical window frequency ranges.


In a microwave beam directed at an angle into the sky, a small amount of the power will be randomly scattered as the beam passes through the troposphere.[6] A sensitive receiver beyond the horizon with a high gain antenna focused on that area of the troposphere can pick up the signal. This technique has been used at frequencies between 0.45 and 5 GHz in tropospheric scatter (troposcatter) communication systems to communicate beyond the horizon, at distances up to 300 km.


Waveguide is used to carry microwaves. Example of waveguides and a diplexer in an air traffic control radar

The short wavelengths of microwaves allow omnidirectional antennas for portable devices to be made very small, from 1 to 20 centimeters long, so microwave frequencies are widely used for wireless devices such as cell phones, cordless phones, and wireless LANs (Wi-Fi) access for laptops, and Bluetooth earphones. Antennas used include short whip antennas, rubber ducky antennas, sleeve dipoles, patch antennas, and increasingly the printed circuit inverted F antenna (PIFA) used in cell phones.

Their short wavelength also allows narrow beams of microwaves to be produced by conveniently small high gain antennas from a half meter to 5 meters in diameter. Therefore, beams of microwaves are used for point-to-point communication links, and for radar. An advantage of narrow beams is that they don't interfere with nearby equipment using the same frequency, allowing frequency reuse by nearby transmitters. Parabolic ("dish") antennas are the most widely used directive antennas at microwave frequencies, but horn antennas, slot antennas and dielectric lens antennas are also used. Flat microstrip antennas are being increasingly used in consumer devices. Another directive antenna practical at microwave frequencies is the phased array, a computer-controlled array of antennas which produces a beam which can be electronically steered in different directions.

At microwave frequencies, the transmission lines which are used to carry lower frequency radio waves to and from antennas, such as coaxial cable and parallel wire lines, have excessive power losses, so when low attenuation is required microwaves are carried by metal pipes called waveguides. Due to the high cost and maintenance requirements of waveguide runs, in many microwave antennas the output stage of the transmitter or the RF front end of the receiver is located at the antenna.

Design and analysis

The term microwave also has a more technical meaning in electromagnetics and circuit theory.[7] Apparatus and techniques may be described qualitatively as "microwave" when the wavelengths of signals are roughly the same as the dimensions of the circuit, so that lumped-element circuit theory is inaccurate, and instead distributed circuit elements and transmission-line theory are more useful methods for design and analysis.

As a consequence, practical microwave circuits tend to move away from the discrete resistors, capacitors, and inductors used with lower-frequency radio waves. Open-wire and coaxial transmission lines used at lower frequencies are replaced by waveguides and stripline, and lumped-element tuned circuits are replaced by cavity resonators or resonant stubs.[7] In turn, at even higher frequencies, where the wavelength of the electromagnetic waves becomes small in comparison to the size of the structures used to process them, microwave techniques become inadequate, and the methods of optics are used.

Microwave sources

Cutaway view inside a cavity magnetron as used in a microwave oven (left). Antenna splitter: microstrip techniques become increasingly necessary at higher frequencies (right).

Magnetron section transverse to axis
Radar speed gun internal works
Disassembled radar speed gun. The grey assembly attached to the end of the copper-colored horn antenna is the Gunn diode which generates the microwaves.

High-power microwave sources use specialized vacuum tubes to generate microwaves. These devices operate on different principles from low-frequency vacuum tubes, using the ballistic motion of electrons in a vacuum under the influence of controlling electric or magnetic fields, and include the magnetron (used in microwave ovens), klystron, traveling-wave tube (TWT), and gyrotron. These devices work in the density modulated mode, rather than the current modulated mode. This means that they work on the basis of clumps of electrons flying ballistically through them, rather than using a continuous stream of electrons.

Low-power microwave sources use solid-state devices such as the field-effect transistor (at least at lower frequencies), tunnel diodes, Gunn diodes, and IMPATT diodes.[8] Low-power sources are available as benchtop instruments, rackmount instruments, embeddable modules and in card-level formats. A maser is a solid state device which amplifies microwaves using similar principles to the laser, which amplifies higher frequency light waves.

All warm objects emit low level microwave black-body radiation, depending on their temperature, so in meteorology and remote sensing microwave radiometers are used to measure the temperature of objects or terrain.[9] The sun[10] and other astronomical radio sources such as Cassiopeia A emit low level microwave radiation which carries information about their makeup, which is studied by radio astronomers using receivers called radio telescopes.[9] The cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), for example, is a weak microwave noise filling empty space which is a major source of information on cosmology's Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe.

Microwave uses

Microwave technology is extensively used for point-to-point telecommunications (i.e. non-broadcast uses). Microwaves are especially suitable for this use since they are more easily focused into narrower beams than radio waves, allowing frequency reuse; their comparatively higher frequencies allow broad bandwidth and high data transmission rates, and antenna sizes are smaller than at lower frequencies because antenna size is inversely proportional to transmitted frequency. Microwaves are used in spacecraft communication, and much of the world's data, TV, and telephone communications are transmitted long distances by microwaves between ground stations and communications satellites. Microwaves are also employed in microwave ovens and in radar technology.


A satellite dish on a residence, which receives satellite television over a Ku band 12–14 GHz microwave beam from a direct broadcast communications satellite in a geostationary orbit 35,700 kilometres (22,000 miles) above the Earth

Before the advent of fiber-optic transmission, most long-distance telephone calls were carried via networks of microwave radio relay links run by carriers such as AT&T Long Lines. Starting in the early 1950s, frequency division multiplex was used to send up to 5,400 telephone channels on each microwave radio channel, with as many as ten radio channels combined into one antenna for the hop to the next site, up to 70 km away.

Wireless LAN protocols, such as Bluetooth and the IEEE 802.11 specifications used for Wi-Fi, also use microwaves in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, although 802.11a uses ISM band and U-NII frequencies in the 5 GHz range. Licensed long-range (up to about 25 km) Wireless Internet Access services have been used for almost a decade in many countries in the 3.5–4.0 GHz range. The FCC recently carved out spectrum for carriers that wish to offer services in this range in the U.S. — with emphasis on 3.65 GHz. Dozens of service providers across the country are securing or have already received licenses from the FCC to operate in this band. The WIMAX service offerings that can be carried on the 3.65 GHz band will give business customers another option for connectivity.

Metropolitan area network (MAN) protocols, such as WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) are based on standards such as IEEE 802.16, designed to operate between 2 and 11 GHz. Commercial implementations are in the 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 5.8 GHz ranges.

Mobile Broadband Wireless Access (MBWA) protocols based on standards specifications such as IEEE 802.20 or ATIS/ANSI HC-SDMA (such as iBurst) operate between 1.6 and 2.3 GHz to give mobility and in-building penetration characteristics similar to mobile phones but with vastly greater spectral efficiency.[11]

Some mobile phone networks, like GSM, use the low-microwave/high-UHF frequencies around 1.8 and 1.9 GHz in the Americas and elsewhere, respectively. DVB-SH and S-DMB use 1.452 to 1.492 GHz, while proprietary/incompatible satellite radio in the U.S. uses around 2.3 GHz for DARS.

Microwave radio is used in broadcasting and telecommunication transmissions because, due to their short wavelength, highly directional antennas are smaller and therefore more practical than they would be at longer wavelengths (lower frequencies). There is also more bandwidth in the microwave spectrum than in the rest of the radio spectrum; the usable bandwidth below 300 MHz is less than 300 MHz while many GHz can be used above 300 MHz. Typically, microwaves are used in television news to transmit a signal from a remote location to a television station from a specially equipped van. See broadcast auxiliary service (BAS), remote pickup unit (RPU), and studio/transmitter link (STL).

Most satellite communications systems operate in the C, X, Ka, or Ku bands of the microwave spectrum. These frequencies allow large bandwidth while avoiding the crowded UHF frequencies and staying below the atmospheric absorption of EHF frequencies. Satellite TV either operates in the C band for the traditional large dish fixed satellite service or Ku band for direct-broadcast satellite. Military communications run primarily over X or Ku-band links, with Ka band being used for Milstar.


Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) including the Chinese Beidou, the American Global Positioning System (introduced in 1978) and the Russian GLONASS broadcast navigational signals in various bands between about 1.2 GHz and 1.6 GHz.


ASR-9 Radar Antenna
The parabolic antenna (lower curved surface) of an ASR-9 airport surveillance radar which radiates a narrow vertical fan-shaped beam of 2.7–2.9 GHz (S band) microwaves to locate aircraft in the airspace surrounding an airport.

Radar is a radiolocation technique in which a beam of radio waves emitted by a transmitter bounces off an object and returns to a receiver, allowing the location, range, speed, and other characteristics of the object to be determined. The short wavelength of microwaves causes large reflections from objects the size of motor vehicles, ships and aircraft. Also, at these wavelengths, the high gain antennas such as parabolic antennas which are required to produce the narrow beamwidths needed to accurately locate objects are conveniently small, allowing them to be rapidly turned to scan for objects. Therefore, microwave frequencies are the main frequencies used in radar. Microwave radar is widely used for applications such as air traffic control, weather forecasting, navigation of ships, and speed limit enforcement. Long distance radars use the lower microwave frequencies since at the upper end of the band atmospheric absorption limits the range, but millimeter waves are used for short range radar such as collision avoidance systems.

The Atacama Compact Array
Some of the dish antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) a radio telescope located in northern Chile. It receives microwaves in the millimeter wave range, 31 – 1000 GHz.
Maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), showing the improved resolution which has been achieved with better microwave radio telescopes

Radio astronomy

Microwaves emitted by astronomical radio sources; planets, stars, galaxies, and nebulas are studied in radio astronomy with large dish antennas called radio telescopes. In addition to receiving naturally occurring microwave radiation, radio telescopes have been used in active radar experiments to bounce microwaves off planets in the solar system, to determine the distance to the Moon or map the invisible surface of Venus through cloud cover.

A recently completed microwave radio telescope is the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, located at more than 5,000 meters (16,597 ft) altitude in Chile, observes the universe in the millimetre and submillimetre wavelength ranges. The world's largest ground-based astronomy project to date, it consists of more than 66 dishes and was built in an international collaboration by Europe, North America, East Asia and Chile.[12][13]

A major recent focus of microwave radio astronomy has been mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) discovered in 1964 by radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. This faint background radiation, which fills the universe and is almost the same in all directions, is "relic radiation" from the Big Bang, and is one of the few sources of information about conditions in the early universe. Due to the expansion and thus cooling of the Universe, the originally high-energy radiation has been shifted into the microwave region of the radio spectrum. Sufficiently sensitive radio telescopes can detected the CMBR as a faint signal that is not associated with any star, galaxy, or other object.[14]

Heating and power application

Electrodomésticos de línea blanca 18
Small microwave oven on a kitchen counter
Microwave tunnel closeup
Microwaves are widely used for heating in industrial processes. A microwave tunnel oven for softening plastic rods prior to extrusion.

A microwave oven passes microwave radiation at a frequency near 2.45 GHz (12 cm) through food, causing dielectric heating primarily by absorption of the energy in water. Microwave ovens became common kitchen appliances in Western countries in the late 1970s, following the development of less expensive cavity magnetrons. Water in the liquid state possesses many molecular interactions that broaden the absorption peak. In the vapor phase, isolated water molecules absorb at around 22 GHz, almost ten times the frequency of the microwave oven.

Microwave heating is used in industrial processes for drying and curing products.

Many semiconductor processing techniques use microwaves to generate plasma for such purposes as reactive ion etching and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD).

Microwave frequencies typically ranging from 110 – 140 GHz are used in stellarators and tokamak experimental fusion reactors to help heat the fuel into a plasma state. The upcoming ITER thermonuclear reactor[15] is expected to range from 110–170 GHz and will employ electron cyclotron resonance heating (ECRH).[16]

Microwaves can be used to transmit power over long distances, and post-World War II research was done to examine possibilities. NASA worked in the 1970s and early 1980s to research the possibilities of using solar power satellite (SPS) systems with large solar arrays that would beam power down to the Earth's surface via microwaves.

Less-than-lethal weaponry exists that uses millimeter waves to heat a thin layer of human skin to an intolerable temperature so as to make the targeted person move away. A two-second burst of the 95 GHz focused beam heats the skin to a temperature of 54 °C (129 °F) at a depth of 0.4 millimetres (164 in). The United States Air Force and Marines are currently using this type of active denial system in fixed installations.[17]


Microwave radiation is used in electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR or ESR) spectroscopy, typically in the X-band region (~9 GHz) in conjunction typically with magnetic fields of 0.3 T. This technique provides information on unpaired electrons in chemical systems, such as free radicals or transition metal ions such as Cu(II). Microwave radiation is also used to perform rotational spectroscopy and can be combined with electrochemistry as in microwave enhanced electrochemistry.

Microwave frequency bands

Atmospheric electromagnetic opacity
Rough plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. Microwaves are strongly absorbed at wavelengths shorter than about 1.5 cm (above 20 GHz) by water and other molecules in the air.

Bands of frequencies in the microwave spectrum are designated by letters. Unfortunately, there are several incompatible band designation systems, and even within a system the frequency ranges corresponding to some of the letters vary somewhat between different application fields.[18][19] The letter system had its origin in World War 2 in a top secret U.S. classification of bands used in radar sets; this is the origin of the oldest letter system, the IEEE radar bands. One set of microwave frequency bands designations by the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB), is tabulated below:

Microwave frequency bands
Designation Frequency range Wavelength range Typical uses
L band 1 to 2 GHz 15 cm to 30 cm military telemetry, GPS, mobile phones (GSM), amateur radio
S band 2 to 4 GHz 7.5 cm to 15 cm weather radar, surface ship radar, and some communications satellites (microwave ovens, microwave devices/communications, radio astronomy, mobile phones, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GPS, amateur radio)
C band 4 to 8 GHz 3.75 cm to 7.5 cm long-distance radio telecommunications
X band 8 to 12 GHz 25 mm to 37.5 mm satellite communications, radar, terrestrial broadband, space communications, amateur radio, molecular rotational spectroscopy
Ku band 12 to 18 GHz 16.7 mm to 25 mm satellite communications, molecular rotational spectroscopy
K band 18 to 26.5 GHz 11.3 mm to 16.7 mm radar, satellite communications, astronomical observations, automotive radar, molecular rotational spectroscopy
Ka band 26.5 to 40 GHz 5.0 mm to 11.3 mm satellite communications, molecular rotational spectroscopy
Q band 33 to 50 GHz 6.0 mm to 9.0 mm satellite communications, terrestrial microwave communications, radio astronomy, automotive radar, molecular rotational spectroscopy
U band 40 to 60 GHz 5.0 mm to 7.5 mm
V band 50 to 75 GHz 4.0 mm to 6.0 mm millimeter wave radar research, molecular rotational spectroscopy and other kinds of scientific research
W band 75 to 110 GHz 2.7 mm to 4.0 mm satellite communications, millimeter-wave radar research, military radar targeting and tracking applications, and some non-military applications, automotive radar
F band 90 to 140 GHz 2.1 mm to 3.3 mm SHF transmissions: Radio astronomy, microwave devices/communications, wireless LAN, most modern radars, communications satellites, satellite television broadcasting, DBS, amateur radio
D band 110 to 170 GHz 1.8 mm to 2.7 mm EHF transmissions: Radio astronomy, high-frequency microwave radio relay, microwave remote sensing, amateur radio, directed-energy weapon, millimeter wave scanner

P band is sometimes used for Ku Band. "P" for "previous" was a radar band used in the UK ranging from 250 to 500 MHz and now obsolete per IEEE Std 521.[20][21][22]

When radars were first developed at K band during World War II, it was not known that there was a nearby absorption band (due to water vapor and oxygen in the atmosphere). To avoid this problem, the original K band was split into a lower band, Ku, and upper band, Ka.[23]

Microwave frequency measurement

Absorption wavemeter for measuring in the Ku band.

Microwave frequency can be measured by either electronic or mechanical techniques.

Frequency counters or high frequency heterodyne systems can be used. Here the unknown frequency is compared with harmonics of a known lower frequency by use of a low frequency generator, a harmonic generator and a mixer. Accuracy of the measurement is limited by the accuracy and stability of the reference source.

Mechanical methods require a tunable resonator such as an absorption wavemeter, which has a known relation between a physical dimension and frequency.

In a laboratory setting, Lecher lines can be used to directly measure the wavelength on a transmission line made of parallel wires, the frequency can then be calculated. A similar technique is to use a slotted waveguide or slotted coaxial line to directly measure the wavelength. These devices consist of a probe introduced into the line through a longitudinal slot, so that the probe is free to travel up and down the line. Slotted lines are primarily intended for measurement of the voltage standing wave ratio on the line. However, provided a standing wave is present, they may also be used to measure the distance between the nodes, which is equal to half the wavelength. Precision of this method is limited by the determination of the nodal locations.

Effects on health

Microwaves do not contain sufficient energy to chemically change substances by ionization, and so are an example of non-ionizing radiation.[24] The word "radiation" refers to energy radiating from a source and not to radioactivity. It has not been shown conclusively that microwaves (or other non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation) have significant adverse biological effects at low levels. Some, but not all, studies suggest that long-term exposure may have a carcinogenic effect.[25] This is separate from the risks associated with very high-intensity exposure, which can cause heating and burns like any heat source, and not a unique property of microwaves specifically.

During World War II, it was observed that individuals in the radiation path of radar installations experienced clicks and buzzing sounds in response to microwave radiation. This microwave auditory effect was thought to be caused by the microwaves inducing an electric current in the hearing centers of the brain.[26] Research by NASA in the 1970s has shown this to be caused by thermal expansion in parts of the inner ear. In 1955 Dr. James Lovelock was able to reanimate rats chilled to 0-1°C using microwave diathermy.[27]

When injury from exposure to microwaves occurs, it usually results from dielectric heating induced in the body. Exposure to microwave radiation can produce cataracts by this mechanism,[28] because the microwave heating denatures proteins in the crystalline lens of the eye (in the same way that heat turns egg whites white and opaque). The lens and cornea of the eye are especially vulnerable because they contain no blood vessels that can carry away heat. Exposure to heavy doses of microwave radiation (as from an oven that has been tampered with to allow operation even with the door open) can produce heat damage in other tissues as well, up to and including serious burns that may not be immediately evident because of the tendency for microwaves to heat deeper tissues with higher moisture content.

Eleanor R. Adair conducted microwave health research by exposing herself, animals and humans to microwave levels that made them feel warm or even start to sweat and feel quite uncomfortable. She found no adverse health effects other than heat.


Hertzian optics

Microwaves were first generated in the 1880s and 1890s in some of the earliest radio experiments by physicists who thought of them as a form of "invisible light".[29] James Clerk Maxwell in his 1873 theory of electromagnetism, now called Maxwell's equations, had predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves and proposed that light was composed of these waves. In 1888, German physicist Heinrich Hertz was the first to demonstrate the existence of radio waves using a primitive spark gap radio transmitter.[30] Hertz and the other early radio researchers were interested in exploring the similarities between radio waves and light waves, to test Maxwell's theory. They concentrated on producing short wavelength radio waves in the UHF and microwave ranges, with which they could duplicate classic optics experiments, using quasioptical components such as prisms and lenses made of paraffin, sulfur and pitch and wire diffraction gratings, to refract and diffract radio waves like light rays.[31] Hertz produced waves up to 450 MHz; his directional 450 MHz transmitter consisted of a 26 cm brass rod dipole antenna with a spark gap between the ends suspended at the focal line of a parabolic antenna made of a curved zinc sheet, powered by high voltage pulses from an induction coil.[30] His historic experiments demonstrated that radio waves like light exhibited refraction, diffraction, polarization, interference and standing waves,[31] proving that radio waves and light waves were both forms of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves.

Hertz spark gap transmitter and parabolic antenna

Heinrich Hertz's 450 MHz spark transmitter, 1888, consisting of 23 cm dipole and spark gap at focus of parabolic reflector

Microwave Apparatus - Jagadish Chandra Bose Museum - Bose Institute - Kolkata 2011-07-26 4051

Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1894 was the first person to produce millimeter waves; his spark oscillator (in box, right) generated 60 GHz (5 mm) waves using 3 mm metal ball resonators.

Refraction of Hertzian waves by paraffin prism

Experiment by John Ambrose Fleming in 1897 showing refraction of 1.4 GHz microwaves by paraffin prism.

Marconi parabolic xmtr and rcvr 1895

1.2 GHz microwave spark transmitter (left) and coherer receiver (right) used by Guglielmo Marconi during his 1895 experiments had a range of 6.5 km (4.0 mi)

In 1894, Oliver Lodge and Augusto Righi generated 1.5 and 12 GHz microwaves respectively with small metal ball spark resonators.[31] The same year Indian physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first person to produce millimeter waves, generating 60 GHz (5 millimeter) microwaves using a 3 mm metal ball spark oscillator.[32][31] Bose also invented waveguide and horn antennas for use in his experiments. Russian physicist Pyotr Lebedev in 1895 generated 50 GHz millimeter waves.[31] In 1897 Lord Rayleigh solved the mathematical boundary-value problem of electromagnetic waves propagating through conducting tubes and dielectric rods of arbitrary shape.[33][34][35][36] which gave the modes and cutoff frequency of microwaves propagating through a waveguide.[30]

However, since microwaves were limited to line of sight paths, they could not communicate beyond the visual horizon, and the low power of the spark transmitters then in use limited their practical range to a few miles. The subsequent development of radio communication after 1896 employed lower frequencies, which could travel beyond the horizon as ground waves and by reflecting off the ionosphere as skywaves, and microwave frequencies were not further explored at this time.

First microwave communication experiments

Practical use of microwave frequencies did not occur until the 1940s and 1950s due to a lack of adequate sources, since the triode vacuum tube (valve) electronic oscillator used in radio transmitters could not produce frequencies above a few hundred megahertz due to excessive electron transit time and interelectrode capacitance.[30] By the 1930s, the first low power microwave vacuum tubes had been developed using new principles; the Barkhausen-Kurz tube and the split-anode magnetron.[30] These could generate a few watts of power at frequencies up to a few gigahertz, and were used in the first experiments in communication with microwaves.

English Channel microwave relay antennas 1931

Antennas of 1931 experimental 1.7 GHz microwave relay link across the English Channel.

Westinghouse experimental 700 MHz transmitter 1932

Experimental 700 MHz transmitter 1932 at Westinghouse labs transmits voice over a mile.

In 1931 an Anglo-French consortium demonstrated the first experimental microwave relay link, across the English Channel 40 miles (64 km) between Dover, UK and Calais, France.[37][38] The system transmitted telephony, telegraph and facsimile data over bidirectional 1.7 GHz beams with a power of one-half watt, produced by miniature Barkhausen-Kurz tubes at the focus of 10-foot (3 m) metal dishes.

A word was needed to distinguish these new shorter wavelengths, which had previously been lumped into the "short wave" band, which meant all waves shorter than 200 meters. The terms quasi-optical waves and ultrashort waves were used briefly, but didn't catch on. The first usage of the word microwave apparently occurred in 1931.[38][39]


The development of radar, mainly in secrecy, before and during World War 2, resulted in the technological advances which made microwaves practical.[30] Radar antennas small enough to fit on aircraft which had a narrow enough beamwidth to localize enemy aircraft required wavelengths in the centimeter range. It was found that conventional transmission lines used to carry radio waves had excessive power losses at microwave frequencies, and George Southworth at Bell Labs and Wilmer Barrow at MIT independently invented waveguide in 1936.[33] Barrow invented the horn antenna in 1938 as a means to efficiently radiate microwaves into or out of a waveguide. In a microwave receiver, a nonlinear component was needed that would act as a detector and mixer at these frequencies, as vacuum tubes had too much capacitance. To fill this need researchers resurrected an obsolete technology, the point contact crystal detector (cat whisker detector) which was used as a demodulator in crystal radios around the turn of the century before vacuum tube receivers.[30][40] The low capacitance of semiconductor junctions allowed them to function at microwave frequencies. The first modern silicon and germanium diodes were developed as microwave detectors in the 1930s, and the principles of semiconductor physics learned during their development led to semiconductor electronics after the war.[30]

Southworth demonstrating waveguide

Southworth (at left) demonstrating waveguide at IRE meeting in 1938, showing 1.5 GHz microwaves passing through the 7.5 m flexible metal hose registering on a diode detector.

Wilmer Barrow & horn antenna 1938

The first modern horn antenna in 1938 with inventor Wilmer L. Barrow

An-APS-4 side view

AN/APS-4 10 GHz air intercept radar used on US and British warplanes in World War 2

US Army Signal Corps AN-TRC-1, 5, 6, & 8 microwave relay station 1945

Mobile US Army microwave relay station 1945 demonstrating relay systems using frequencies from 100 MHz to 4.9 GHz which could transmit up to 8 phone calls on a beam.

The first powerful sources of microwaves were invented at the beginning of World War 2: the klystron tube by Russell and Sigurd Varian at Stanford University in 1937, and the cavity magnetron tube by John Randall and Harry Boot at Birmingham University, UK in 1940.[30] Britain's 1940 decision to share its microwave technology with the US (the Tizard Mission) significantly influenced the outcome of the war. The MIT Radiation Laboratory established secretly at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940 to research radar, produced much of the theoretical knowledge necessary to use microwaves. By 1943, 10 centimeter (3 GHz) radar was in use on British and American warplanes. The first microwave relay systems were developed by the Allied military near the end of the war and used for secure battlefield communication networks in the European theater.

Post World War 2

After World War 2, microwaves were rapidly exploited commercially.[30] Due to their high frequency they had a very large information-carrying capacity (bandwidth); a single microwave beam could carry tens of thousands of phone calls. In the 1950s and 60s transcontinental microwave relay networks were built in the US and Europe to exchange telephone calls between cities and distribute television programs. In the new television broadcasting industry, from the 1940s microwave dishes were used to transmit backhaul video feed from mobile production trucks back to the studio, allowing the first remote TV broadcasts. The first communications satellites were launched in the 1960s, which relayed telephone calls and television between widely separated points on Earth using microwave beams. In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson while investigating noise in a satellite horn antenna at Bell Labs, Holmdel, New Jersey discovered cosmic microwave background radiation.

Hogg horn antennas
C-band horn antennas at a telephone switching center in Seattle, belonging to AT&T's Long Lines microwave relay network built in the 1960s.
NIKE AJAX Anti-Aircraft Missile Radar3
Microwave lens antenna used in the radar for the 1954 Nike Ajax anti-aircraft missile
NS Savannah microwave oven MD8
The first commercial microwave oven, Amana's Radarange, in kitchen of US aircraft carrier Savannah in 1961

Microwave radar became the central technology used in air traffic control, maritime navigation, anti-aircraft defense, ballistic missile detection, and later many other uses. Radar and satellite communication motivated the development of modern microwave antennas; the parabolic antenna (the most common type), cassegrain antenna, lens antenna, slot antenna, and phased array.

The ability of short waves to quickly heat materials and cook food had been investigated in the 1930s by I. F. Mouromtseff at Westinghouse, and at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair demonstrated cooking meals with a 60 MHz radio transmitter.[41] In 1945 Percy Spencer, an engineer working on radar at Raytheon, noticed that microwave radiation from a magnetron oscillator melted a candy bar in his pocket. He investigated cooking with microwaves and invented the microwave oven, consisting of a magnetron feeding microwaves into a closed metal cavity containing food, which was patented by Raytheon on 8 October 1945. Due to their expense microwave ovens were initially used in institutional kitchens, but by 1986 roughly 25% of households in the U.S. owned one. Microwave heating became widely used as an industrial process in industries such as plastics fabrication, and as a medical therapy to kill cancer cells in microwave hyperthermy.

The traveling wave tube (TWT) developed in 1943 by Rudolph Kompfner and John Pierce provided a high-power tunable source of microwaves up to 50 GHz, and became the most widely used microwave tube (besides the ubiquitous magnetron used in microwave ovens). The gyrotron tube family developed in Russia could produce megawatts of power up into millimeter wave frequencies, and is used in industrial heating and plasma research, and to power particle accelerators and nuclear fusion reactors.

Solid state microwave devices

Radar Gun Electronics
Radar speed gun. At the right end of the copper horn antenna is the Gunn diode (grey assembly) which generates the microwaves.

The development of semiconductor electronics in the 1950s led to the first solid state microwave devices which worked by a new principle; negative resistance (some of the prewar microwave tubes had also used negative resistance).[30] The feedback oscillator and two-port amplifiers which were used at lower frequencies became unstable at microwave frequencies, and negative resistance oscillators and amplifiers based on one-port devices like diodes worked better.

The tunnel diode invented in 1957 by Japanese physicist Leo Esaki could produce a few milliwatts of microwave power. Its invention set off a search for better negative resistance semiconductor devices for use as microwave oscillators, resulting in the invention of the IMPATT diode in 1956 by W.T. Read and Ralph L. Johnston and the Gunn diode in 1962 by J. B. Gunn.[30] Diodes are the most widely used microwave sources today. Two low-noise solid state negative resistance microwave amplifiers were developed; the ruby maser invented in 1953 by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger, and the varactor parametric amplifier developed in 1956 by Marion Hines.[30] These were used for low noise microwave receivers in radio telescopes and satellite ground stations. The maser led to the development of atomic clocks, which keep time using a precise microwave frequency emitted by atoms undergoing an electron transition between two energy levels. Negative resistance amplifier circuits required the invention of new nonreciprocal waveguide components, such as circulators, isolators, and directional couplers. In 1969 Kurokawa derived mathematical conditions for stability in negative resistance circuits which formed the basis of microwave oscillator design.[42]

Microwave integrated circuits

Prior to the 1970s microwave devices and circuits were bulky and expensive, so microwave frequencies were generally limited to the output stage of transmitters and the RF front end of receivers, and signals were heterodyned to a lower intermediate frequency for processing. The period from the 1970s to the present has seen the development of tiny inexpensive active solid state microwave components which can be mounted on circuit boards, allowing circuits to perform significant signal processing at microwave frequencies. This has made possible satellite television, cable television, GPS devices, and modern wireless devices, such as smartphones, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth which connect to networks using microwaves.

Microstrip, a type of transmission line usable at microwave frequencies, was invented with printed circuits in the 1950s.[30] The ability to cheaply fabricate a wide range of shapes on printed circuit boards allowed microstrip versions of capacitors, inductors, resonant stubs, splitters, directional couplers, diplexers, filters and antennas to be made, thus allowing compact microwave circuits to be constructed.[30]

Transistors that operated at microwave frequencies were developed in the 1970s. The semiconductor gallium arsenide (GaAs) has a much higher electron mobility than silicon,[30] so devices fabricated with this material can operate at 4 times the frequency of similar devices of silicon. Beginning in the 1970s GaAs was used to make the first microwave transistors,[30] and it has dominated microwave semiconductors ever since. MESFETs (metal-semiconductor field-effect transistors), fast GaAs field effect transistors using Schottky junctions for the gate, were developed starting in 1968 and have reached cutoff frequencies of 100 GHz, and are now the most widely used active microwave devices.[30] Another family of transistors with a higher frequency limit is the HEMT (high electron mobility transistor), a field effect transistor made with two different semiconductors, AlGaAs and GaAs, using heterojunction technology, and the similar HBT (heterojunction bipolar transistor).[30]

GaAs can be made semi-insulating, allowing it to be used as a substrate on which circuits containing passive components as well as transistors can be fabricated by lithography.[30] By 1976 this led to the first integrated circuits (ICs) which functioned at microwave frequencies, called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMIC).[30] The word "monolithic" was added to distinguish these from microstrip PCB circuits, which were called "microwave integrated circuits" (MIC). Since then silicon MMICs have also been developed. Today MMICs have become the workhorses of both analog and digital high frequency electronics, enabling the production of single chip microwave receivers, broadband amplifiers, modems, and microprocessors.

See also


  1. ^ Hitchcock, R. Timothy (2004). Radio-frequency and Microwave Radiation. American Industrial Hygiene Assn. p. 1. ISBN 978-1931504553.
  2. ^ a b Kumar, Sanjay; Shukla, Saurabh (2014). Concepts and Applications of Microwave Engineering. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 3. ISBN 978-8120349353.
  3. ^ Jones, Graham A.; Layer, David H.; Osenkowsky, Thomas G. (2013). National Association of Broadcasters Engineering Handbook, 10th Ed. Taylor & Francis. p. 6. ISBN 978-1136034107.
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  5. ^ Sorrentino, R. and Bianchi, Giovanni (2010) Microwave and RF Engineering, John Wiley & Sons, p. 4, ISBN 047066021X.
  6. ^ a b Seybold, John S. (2005). Introduction to RF Propagation. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 55–58. ISBN 978-0471743682.
  7. ^ a b Golio, Mike; Golio, Janet (2007). RF and Microwave Passive and Active Technologies. CRC Press. pp. I.2–I.4. ISBN 978-1420006728.
  8. ^ Microwave Oscillator notes by Herley General Microwave
  9. ^ a b Sisodia, M. L. (2007). Microwaves : Introduction To Circuits, Devices And Antennas. New Age International. pp. 1.4–1.7. ISBN 978-8122413380.
  10. ^ Liou, Kuo-Nan (2002). An introduction to atmospheric radiation. Academic Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-12-451451-5. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
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  12. ^ "ALMA website". Retrieved 2011-09-21.
  13. ^ "Welcome to ALMA!". Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  14. ^ Wright, E.L. (2004). "Theoretical Overview of Cosmic Microwave Background Anisotropy". In W. L. Freedman (ed.). Measuring and Modeling the Universe. Carnegie Observatories Astrophysics Series. Cambridge University Press. p. 291. arXiv:astro-ph/0305591. Bibcode:2004mmu..symp..291W. ISBN 978-0-521-75576-4.
  15. ^ "The way to new energy". ITER. 2011-11-04. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  16. ^ "Electron Cyclotron Resonance Heating (ECRH)". Ipp.mpg.de. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  17. ^ Silent Guardian Protection System. Less-than-Lethal Directed Energy Protection. raytheon.com
  18. ^ "Frequency Letter bands". Microwave Encyclopedia. Microwaves101 website, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). 14 May 2016. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  19. ^ Golio, Mike; Golio, Janet (2007). RF and Microwave Applications and Systems. CRC Press. pp. 1.9–1.11. ISBN 978-1420006711.
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  21. ^ PC Mojo – Webs with MOJO from Cave Creek, AZ (2008-04-25). "Frequency Letter bands – Microwave Encyclopedia". Microwaves101.com. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
  22. ^ For other definitions see Letter Designations of Microwave Bands.
  23. ^ Skolnik, Merrill I. (2001) Introduction to Radar Systems, Third Ed., p. 522, McGraw Hill. 1962 Edition full text
  24. ^ Nave, Rod. "Interaction of Radiation with Matter". HyperPhysics. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  25. ^ Goldsmith, JR (December 1997). "Epidemiologic evidence relevant to radar (microwave) effects". Environmental Health Perspectives. 105 (Suppl. 6): 1579–1587. doi:10.2307/3433674. JSTOR 3433674. PMC 1469943. PMID 9467086.
  26. ^ Philip L. Stocklin, U.S. Patent 4,858,612, December 19, 1983
  27. ^ Andjus, R.K.; Lovelock, J.E. (1955). "Reanimation of rats from body temperatures between 0 and 1 °C by microwave diathermy". The Journal of Physiology. 128 (3): 541–546. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1955.sp005323. PMC 1365902. PMID 13243347.
  28. ^ "Resources for You (Radiation-Emitting Products)". US Food and Drug Administration home page. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  29. ^ Hong, Sungook (2001). Wireless: From Marconi's Black-box to the Audion. MIT Press. pp. 5–9, 22. ISBN 978-0262082983.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Roer, T.G. (2012). Microwave Electronic Devices. Springer Science and Business Media. pp. 1–12. ISBN 978-1461525004.
  31. ^ a b c d e Sarkar, T. K.; Mailloux, Robert; Oliner, Arthur A. (2006). History of Wireless. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 474–486. ISBN 978-0471783015.
  32. ^ Emerson, D.T. (February 1998). "The work of Jagdish Chandra Bose: 100 years of MM-wave research". National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
  33. ^ a b Packard, Karle S. (September 1984). "The Origin of Waveguides: A Case of Multiple Rediscovery" (PDF). IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques. MTT-32 (9): 961–969. Bibcode:1984ITMTT..32..961P. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/tmtt.1984.1132809. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  34. ^ Strutt, William (Lord Rayleigh) (February 1897). "On the passage of electric waves through tubes, or the vibrations of dielectric cylinders". Philosophical Magazine. 43 (261): 125–132. doi:10.1080/14786449708620969.
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  38. ^ a b Free, E.E. (August 1931). "Searchlight radio with the new 7 inch waves" (PDF). Radio News. Vol. 8 no. 2. New York: Radio Science Publications. pp. 107–109. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
  39. ^ Ayto, John (2002). 20th century words. p. 269. ISBN 978-7560028743.
  40. ^ Riordan, Michael; Lillian Hoddeson (1988). Crystal fire: the invention of the transistor and the birth of the information age. US: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 89–92. ISBN 978-0-393-31851-7.
  41. ^ "Cooking with Short Waves" (PDF). Short Wave Craft. 4 (7): 394. November 1933. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  42. ^ Kurokawa, K. (July 1969). "Some Basic Characteristics of Broadband Negative Resistance Oscillator Circuits". Bell System Tech. J. 48 (6): 1937–1955. doi:10.1002/j.1538-7305.1969.tb01158.x. Retrieved December 8, 2012.

External links

Beam-powered propulsion

Beam-powered propulsion, also known as directed energy propulsion, is a class of aircraft or spacecraft propulsion that uses energy beamed to the spacecraft from a remote power plant to provide energy. The beam is typically either a microwave or a laser beam and it is either pulsed or continuous. A continuous beam lends itself to thermal rockets, photonic thrusters and light sails, whereas a pulsed beam lends itself to ablative thrusters and pulse detonation engines.The rule of thumb that is usually quoted is that it takes a megawatt of power beamed to a vehicle per kg of payload while it is being accelerated to permit it to reach low earth orbit.Other than launching to orbit, applications for moving around the world quickly have also been proposed.

C band (IEEE)

The C band is a designation by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in the microwave range of frequencies ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz (GHz); however, this definition is the one used by radar manufacturers and users, not necessarily by microwave radio telecommunications users. The C band (4 to 8 GHz) is used for many satellite communications transmissions, some Wi-Fi devices, some cordless telephones as well as some surveillance and weather radar systems.

The communications C band was the first frequency band that was allocated for commercial telecommunications via satellites. The same frequencies were already in use for terrestrial microwave radio relay chains. Nearly all C-band communication satellites use the band of frequencies from 3.7 to 4.2 GHz for their downlinks, and the band of frequencies from 5.925 to 6.425 GHz for their uplinks. Note that by using the band from 3.7 to 4.0 GHz, this C band overlaps somewhat into the IEEE S band for radars.

The C-band communication satellites typically have 24 radio transponders spaced 20 MHz apart, but with the adjacent transponders on opposite polarizations. Hence, the transponders on the same polarization are always 40 MHz apart. Of this 40 MHz, each transponder utilizes about 36 MHz. (The unused 4.0 MHz between the pairs of transponders acts as "guard bands" for the likely case of imperfections in the microwave electronics.)

One use of the C band is for satellite communication, whether for full-time satellite television networks or raw satellite feeds, although subscription programming also exists. This use contrasts with direct-broadcast satellite, which is a completely closed system used to deliver subscription programming to small satellite dishes that are connected with proprietary receiving equipment.

The satellite communications portion of the C band is highly associated with television receive-only satellite reception systems, commonly called "big dish" systems, since small receiving antennas are not optimal for C-band systems. Typical antenna sizes on C-band capable systems ranges from 7.5 to 12 feet (2.5 to 3.5 meters) on consumer satellite dishes, although larger ones also can be used. For satellite communications, the microwave frequencies of the C band perform better under adverse weather conditions in comparison with the Ku band (11.2 GHz to 14.5 GHz), microwave frequencies used by other communication satellites. Rain fade – the collective name for the negative effects of adverse weather conditions on transmission – is mostly a consequence of precipitation and moisture in the air.

The C band also includes the 5.8 GHz ISM band between 5.725 - 5.875 GHz, which is used for medical and industrial heating applications and many unlicensed short range microwave communication systems, such as cordless phones, baby monitors, and keyless entry systems for vehicles. The C-band frequencies of 5.4 GHz band [5.15 to 5.35 GHz, 5.47 to 5.725 GHz, or 5.725 to 5.875 GHz, depending on the region of the world] are used for IEEE 802.11a Wi-Fi wireless computer networks.

Cavity magnetron

The cavity magnetron is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field while moving past a series of open metal cavities (cavity resonators). Electrons pass by the openings to these cavities and cause radio waves to oscillate within, similar to the way a whistle produces a tone when excited by an air stream blown past its opening. The frequency of the microwaves produced, the resonant frequency, is determined by the cavities' physical dimensions. Unlike other vacuum tubes such as a klystron or a traveling-wave tube (TWT), the magnetron cannot function as an amplifier in order to increase the intensity of an applied microwave signal; the magnetron serves solely as an oscillator, generating a microwave signal from direct current electricity supplied to the vacuum tube.

An early form of magnetron was invented by H. Gerdien in 1910. Another form of magnetron tube, the split-anode magnetron, was invented by Albert Hull of General Electric Research Laboratory in 1920, but it achieved only a frequency of 30 kHz. Similar devices were experimented with by many teams through the 1920s and 1930s. Hans Erich Hollmann filed a patent on a design similar to the modern tube in 1935, but the more stable klystron was preferred for most German radars during World War II. An important advance was the multi-cavity magnetron, first proposed in 1934 by A. L. Samuel of Bell Telephone Laboratories. However, the first truly successful example was developed by Aleksereff and Malearoff in USSR in 1936, which achieved 300 watts at 3 GHz (10 cm wavelength).The cavity magnetron was radically improved by John Randall and Harry Boot in 1940 at the University of Birmingham, England. They invented a valve that could produce multi-kilowatt pulses at 10 cm wavelength, an unprecedented invention. The high power of pulses from their device made centimeter-band radar practical for the Allies of World War II, with shorter wavelength radars allowing detection of smaller objects from smaller antennas. The compact cavity magnetron tube drastically reduced the size of radar sets so that they could be more easily installed in night-fighter aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft and escort ships.At the same time, Yoji Ito in Japan was experimenting with magnetrons, and proposed a system of collision avoidance using FM. Only low power was achieved. Ito then traveled to Germany, where he had earlier received his doctorate, and found the Germans were using pulse modulation at VHF with great success. When he returned to Japan, he produced a prototype pulse magnetron with 2 kW in October 1941. This was then widely deployed.In the post-war era the magnetron became less widely used in the radar role. This was because the magnetron's output changes from pulse to pulse, both in frequency and phase. This makes the signal unsuitable for pulse-to-pulse comparisons, which is widely used for detecting and removing "clutter" from the radar display. The magnetron remains in use in some radars, but has become much more common as a low-cost microwave source for microwave ovens. In this form, approximately one billion magnetrons are in use today.

Cosmic Background Explorer

The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE ), also referred to as Explorer 66, was a satellite dedicated to cosmology, which operated from 1989 to 1993. Its goals were to investigate the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) of the universe and provide measurements that would help shape our understanding of the cosmos.

COBE's measurements provided two key pieces of evidence that supported the Big Bang theory of the universe: that the CMB has a near-perfect black-body spectrum, and that it has very faint anisotropies. Two of COBE's principal investigators, George Smoot and John Mather, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for their work on the project. According to the Nobel Prize committee, "the COBE-project can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology

as a precision science".COBE was followed by two more advanced spacecraft: the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe operated from 2001-2010 and the Planck spacecraft from 2009-2013.

Cosmic microwave background

The cosmic microwave background (CMB, CMBR), in Big Bang cosmology, is electromagnetic radiation as a remnant from an early stage of the universe, also known as "relic radiation". The CMB is faint cosmic background radiation filling all space. It is an important source of data on the early universe because it is the oldest electromagnetic radiation in the universe, dating to the epoch of recombination. With a traditional optical telescope, the space between stars and galaxies (the background) is completely dark. However, a sufficiently sensitive radio telescope shows a faint background noise, or glow, almost isotropic, that is not associated with any star, galaxy, or other object. This glow is strongest in the microwave region of the radio spectrum. The accidental discovery of the CMB in 1964 by American radio astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson was the culmination of work initiated in the 1940s, and earned the discoverers the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.

CMB is landmark evidence of the Big Bang origin of the universe. When the universe was young, before the formation of stars and planets, it was denser, much hotter, and filled with a uniform glow from a white-hot fog of hydrogen plasma. As the universe expanded, both the plasma and the radiation filling it grew cooler. When the universe cooled enough, protons and electrons combined to form neutral hydrogen atoms. Unlike the uncombined protons and electrons, these newly conceived atoms could not absorb the thermal radiation, and so the universe became transparent instead of being an opaque fog. Cosmologists refer to the time period when neutral atoms first formed as the recombination epoch, and the event shortly afterwards when photons started to travel freely through space rather than constantly being scattered by electrons and protons in plasma is referred to as photon decoupling. The photons that existed at the time of photon decoupling have been propagating ever since, though growing fainter and less energetic, since the expansion of space causes their wavelength to increase over time (and wavelength is inversely proportional to energy according to Planck's relation). This is the source of the alternative term relic radiation. The surface of last scattering refers to the set of points in space at the right distance from us so that we are now receiving photons originally emitted from those points at the time of photon decoupling.

Tiny residual variations in the glow show a very specific pattern, as would be expected of a fairly uniformly distributed hot gas that has expanded to the current size of the universe. In particular, the spectral radiance contains small anisotropies, or irregularities, which vary with the size of the region examined. They have been measured in detail, and match what would be expected if small thermal variations, generated by quantum fluctuations of matter in a very tiny space, had expanded to the size of the observable universe we see today. Although many different processes might produce the general form of a black body spectrum, no model other than the Big Bang has yet explained the fluctuations. As a result, most cosmologists consider the Big Bang model of the universe to be the best explanation for the CMB.

Directed-energy weapon

A directed-energy weapon (DEW) is a ranged weapon that damages its target with highly focused energy, including laser, microwaves and particle beams. Potential applications of this technology include weapons that target personnel, missiles, vehicles, and optical devices.In the United States, the Pentagon, DARPA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, United States Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center, and the Naval Research Laboratory are researching directed-energy weapons and railguns to counter ballistic missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles, and hypersonic glide vehicles. These systems of missile defense are expected to come online no sooner than the mid to late-2020s.Russia, China, India, and the United Kingdom are also developing directed-energy weapons.

After decades of R&D, directed-energy weapons are still at the experimental stage and it remains to be seen if or when they will be deployed as practical, high-performance military weapons.


A maser (, an acronym for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a device that produces coherent electromagnetic waves through amplification by stimulated emission. The first maser was built by Charles H. Townes, James P. Gordon, and H. J. Zeiger at Columbia University in 1953. Townes, Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical work leading to the maser. Masers are used as the timekeeping device in atomic clocks, and as extremely low-noise microwave amplifiers in radio telescopes and deep space spacecraft communication ground stations.

Modern masers can be designed to generate electromagnetic waves at not only microwave frequencies but also radio and infrared frequencies. For this reason Charles Townes suggested replacing "microwave" with the word "molecular" as the first word in the acronym maser.The laser works by the same principle as the maser, but produces higher frequency coherent radiation at visible wavelengths. The maser was the forerunner of the laser, inspiring theoretical work by Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow that led to the invention of the laser in 1960. When the coherent optical oscillator was first imagined in 1957, it was originally called the "optical maser". This was ultimately changed to laser for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation". Gordon Gould is credited with creating this acronym in 1957.

Microwave auditory effect

The microwave auditory effect, also known as the microwave hearing effect or the Frey effect, consists of the human perception of audible clicks, or even speech, induced by pulsed or modulated radio frequencies. The communications are generated directly inside the human head without the need of any receiving electronic device. The effect was first reported by persons working in the vicinity of radar transponders during World War II. In 1961, the American neuroscientist Allan H. Frey studied this phenomenon and was the first to publish information on the nature of the microwave auditory effect. The cause is thought to be thermoelastic expansion of portions of the auditory apparatus, although competing theories explain the results of holographic interferometry tests differently.

Microwave oven

A microwave oven (also commonly referred to as a microwave) is an electric oven that heats and cooks food by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This induces polar molecules in the food to rotate and produce thermal energy in a process known as dielectric heating. Microwave ovens heat foods quickly and efficiently because excitation is fairly uniform in the outer 25–38 mm (1–1.5 inches) of a homogeneous, high water content food item.

The development of the cavity magnetron in the UK made possible the production of electromagnetic waves of a small enough wavelength (microwaves). American engineer Percy Spencer is generally credited with inventing the modern microwave oven after World War II from radar technology developed during the war. Named the "Radarange", it was first sold in 1946. Raytheon later licensed its patents for a home-use microwave oven that was first introduced by Tappan in 1955, but these units were still too large and expensive for general home use. Sharp Corporation introduced the first microwave oven with a turntable between 1964 and 1966. The countertop microwave oven was first introduced in 1967 by the Amana Corporation. After Sharp introduced low-cost microwave ovens affordable for residential use in the late 1970s, their use spread into commercial and residential kitchens around the world. In addition to their use in cooking food, types of microwave ovens are used for heating in many industrial processes.

Microwave ovens are a common kitchen appliance and are popular for reheating previously cooked foods and cooking a variety of foods. They are also useful for rapid heating of otherwise slowly prepared foodstuffs, which can easily burn or turn lumpy when cooked in conventional pans, such as hot butter, fats, chocolate or porridge. Unlike conventional ovens, microwave ovens usually do not directly brown or caramelize food, since they rarely attain the necessary temperatures to produce Maillard reactions. Exceptions occur in rare cases where the oven is used to heat frying-oil and other very oily items (such as bacon), which attain far higher temperatures than that of boiling water.

Microwave ovens have limited roles in professional cooking, because the boiling-range temperatures of a microwave will not produce the flavorful chemical reactions that frying, browning, or baking at a higher temperature will. However, additional heat sources can be added to microwave ovens.

Microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn is a convenience food consisting of unpopped popcorn in an enhanced, sealed paper bag intended to be heated in a microwave oven. In addition to the dried corn, the bags typically contain cooking oil with sufficient saturated fat to solidify at room temperature, one or more seasonings (often salt), and natural or artificial flavorings or both. With the many different flavors, there are many different providers.

Microwave radiometer

A microwave radiometer (MWR) is a radiometer that measures energy emitted at millimetre-to-centimetre wavelengths (frequencies of 1–1000 GHz) known as microwaves. Microwave radiometers are very sensitive receivers designed to measure thermal electromagnetic radiation emitted by atmospheric gases. They are usually equipped with multiple receiving channels in order to derive the characteristic emission spectrum of the atmosphere or extraterrestrial objects. Microwave radiometers are utilized in a variety of environmental and engineering applications, including weather forecasting, climate monitoring, radio astronomy and radio propagation studies.

Using the microwave spectral range between 1 and 300 GHz provides complementary information to the visible and infrared spectral range. Most importantly, the atmosphere and also vegetation is semi-transparent in the microwave spectral range. This means its components like dry gases, water vapor, or hydrometeors interact with microwave radiation but overall even the cloudy atmosphere is not completely opaque in this frequency range.For weather and climate monitoring, microwave radiometers are operated from space as well as from the ground. As remote sensing instruments, they are designed to operate continuously and autonomously often in combination with other atmospheric remote sensors like for example cloud radars and lidars. They allow to derive important meteorological quantities such as vertical temperature and humidity profile, columnar water vapor amount, or columnar liquid water path with a high temporal resolution in the order of seconds to minutes under nearly all weather conditions.

Microwave transmission

Microwave transmission is the transmission of information by microwave radio waves. Although an experimental 40-mile (64 km) microwave telecommunication link across the English Channel was demonstrated in 1931, the development of radar in World War II provided the technology for practical exploitation of microwave communication. In the 1950s, large transcontinental microwave relay networks, consisting of chains of repeater stations linked by line-of-sight beams of microwaves were built in Europe and America to relay long distance telephone traffic and television programs between cities. Communication satellites which transferred data between ground stations by microwaves took over much long distance traffic in the 1960s. In recent years, there has been an explosive increase in use of the microwave spectrum by new telecommunication technologies such as wireless networks, and direct-broadcast satellites which broadcast television and radio directly into consumers' homes.

Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400

The Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 was a NASCAR Winston Cup event that took place in November at the North Carolina Motor Speedway from 1965 to 2003. It was the first NASCAR Cup Series victory for three drivers including Mark Martin in 1989, Ward Burton in 1995, and Johnny Benson in 2002. It was the final race win for Bill Elliott in 2003.

This race, typically run as the penultimate race of the NASCAR season, was dropped from the schedule after the 2003 season. The Pop Secret sponsorship was moved over to the newly acquired Labor Day date at Auto Club Speedway, while the late season date was originally taken over by the Southern 500 at Darlington and is now occupied by the AAA Texas 500 at Texas.

S band

The S band is a designation by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for a part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum covering frequencies from 2 to 4 gigahertz (GHz). Thus it crosses the conventional boundary between the UHF and SHF bands at 3.0 GHz. The S band is used by airport surveillance radar for air traffic control, weather radar, surface ship radar, and some communications satellites, especially those used by NASA to communicate with the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. The 10 cm radar short-band ranges roughly from 1.55 to 5.2 GHz. The S band also contains the 2.4–2.483 GHz ISM band, widely used for low power unlicensed microwave devices such as cordless phones, wireless headphones (Bluetooth), wireless networking (WiFi), garage door openers, keyless vehicle locks, baby monitors as well as for medical diathermy machines and microwave ovens (typically at 2.495 GHz). India’s regional satellite navigation network (IRNSS) broadcasts on 2.483778 to 2.500278 GHz.

Special sensor microwave/imager

The Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) is a seven-channel, four-frequency, linearly polarized passive microwave radiometer system. It is flown on board the United States Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Block 5D-2 satellites. The instrument measures surface/atmospheric microwave brightness temperatures (TBs) at 19.35, 22.235, 37.0 and 85.5 GHz. The four frequencies are sampled in both horizontal and vertical polarizations, except the 22 GHz which is sampled in the vertical only.The SSM/I has been a very successful instrument, superseding the across-track and Dicke radiometer designs of previous systems. Its combination of constant-angle rotary-scanning and total power radiometer design has become standard for passive microwave imagers, e.g. TRMM Microwave Imager, AMSR.

Its predecessor, the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR), provided similar information. Its successor, the Special Sensor Microwave Imager / Sounder (SSMIS), is an enhanced eleven-channel, eight-frequency system.

Super high frequency

Super high frequency (SHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies (RF) in the range between 3 and 30 gigahertz (GHz). This band of frequencies is also known as the centimetre band or centimetre wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten centimetres. These frequencies fall within the microwave band, so radio waves with these frequencies are called microwaves. The small wavelength of microwaves allows them to be directed in narrow beams by aperture antennas such as parabolic dishes and horn antennas, so they are used for point-to-point communication and data links and for radar. This frequency range is used for most radar transmitters, wireless LANs, satellite communication, microwave radio relay links, and numerous short range terrestrial data links. They are also used for heating in industrial microwave heating, medical diathermy, microwave hyperthermy to treat cancer, and to cook food in microwave ovens.

Frequencies in the SHF range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.


Susceptor is a material used for its ability to absorb electromagnetic energy and convert it to heat (which is sometimes designed to be re-emitted as infrared thermal radiation). The electromagnetic energy is typically radiofrequency or microwave radiation used in industrial heating processes, and also in microwave cooking. The name is derived from susceptance, an electrical property of materials that measures their tendency to convert electromagnetic energy to heat.


WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a family of wireless broadband communication standards based on the IEEE 802.16 set of standards, which provide multiple physical layer (PHY) and Media Access Control (MAC) options.

The name "WiMAX" was created by the WiMAX Forum, which was formed in June 2001 to promote conformity and interoperability of the standard, including the definition of predefined system profiles for commercial vendors. The forum describes WiMAX as "a standards-based technology enabling the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL". IEEE 802.16m or WirelessMAN-Advanced was a candidate for the 4G, in competition with the LTE Advanced standard.

WiMAX was initially designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit-per-second data rates, with the 2011 update providing up to 1 Gbit/s for fixed stations.

The latest version of WiMAX, WiMAX release 2.1, popularly branded as/known as WiMAX 2+, is a smooth, backwards-compatible transition from previous WiMAX generations. It is compatible and inter-operable with TD-LTE.

Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), originally known as the Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP), was a spacecraft operating from 2001 to 2010 which measured temperature differences across the sky in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the radiant heat remaining from the Big Bang. Headed by Professor Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University, the mission was developed in a joint partnership between the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Princeton University. The WMAP spacecraft was launched on June 30, 2001 from Florida. The WMAP mission succeeded the COBE space mission and was the second medium-class (MIDEX) spacecraft in the NASA Explorers program. In 2003, MAP was renamed WMAP in honor of cosmologist David Todd Wilkinson (1935–2002), who had been a member of the mission's science team. After nine years of operations, WMAP was switched off in 2010, following the launch of the more advanced Planck spacecraft by ESA in 2009.

WMAP's measurements played a key role in establishing the current Standard Model of Cosmology: the Lambda-CDM model. The WMAP data are very well fit by a universe that is dominated by dark energy in the form of a cosmological constant. Other cosmological data are also consistent, and together tightly constrain the Model. In the Lambda-CDM model of the universe, the age of the universe is 13.772±0.059 billion years. The WMAP mission's determination of the age of the universe is to better than 1% precision. The current expansion rate of the universe is (see Hubble constant) 69.32±0.80 km·s−1·Mpc−1. The content of the universe currently consists of 4.628%±0.093% ordinary baryonic matter; 24.02%+0.88%
cold dark matter (CDM) that neither emits nor absorbs light; and 71.35%+0.95%
of dark energy in the form of a cosmological constant that accelerates the expansion of the universe. Less than 1% of the current content of the universe is in neutrinos, but WMAP's measurements have found, for the first time in 2008, that the data prefer the existence of a cosmic neutrino background with an effective number of neutrino species of 3.26±0.35. The contents point to a Euclidean flat geometry, with curvature () of −0.0027+0.0039
. The WMAP measurements also support the cosmic inflation paradigm in several ways, including the flatness measurement.

The mission has won various awards: according to Science magazine, the WMAP was the Breakthrough of the Year for 2003. This mission's results papers were first and second in the "Super Hot Papers in Science Since 2003" list. Of the all-time most referenced papers in physics and astronomy in the INSPIRE-HEP database, only three have been published since 2000, and all three are WMAP publications. Bennett, Lyman A. Page, Jr., and David N. Spergel, the latter both of Princeton University, shared the 2010 Shaw Prize in astronomy for their work on WMAP. Bennett and the WMAP science team were awarded the 2012 Gruber Prize in cosmology. The 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to Bennett, Gary Hinshaw, Norman Jarosik, Page, Spergel and the WMAP science team.

As of October 2010, the WMAP spacecraft is derelict in a heliocentric graveyard orbit after 9 years of operations. All WMAP data are released to the public and have been subject to careful scrutiny. The final official data release was the nine-year release in 2012.

Some aspects of the data are statistically unusual for the Standard Model of Cosmology. For example, the largest angular-scale measurement, the quadrupole moment, is somewhat smaller than the Model would predict, but this discrepancy is not highly significant. A large cold spot and other features of the data are more statistically significant, and research continues into these.

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