Can electronic devices cause us harm ?

Will i get cancer if i use my phone for too long ? You probably asked yourself this question at least once in your life, gave it a quick thought and forgot about it 5 seconds later. Well, in this period of confinement where we are all using our electronic devices a bit more than usual, let me answer this question for you.

Let’s talk about waves, electronic waves 

All of our electronic devices work thanks to electricity but you knew that already. The thing is, electricity is not static, it moves through the devices. This movement generates electric and magnetic fields which creates waves. This phenomenon is called electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic Radiation

The first thing people think about when hearing radiation is Chernobyl, but the literal definition of radiation is « letting out ». Just like uranium radiates gamma rays,  electronic devices radiate different kinds of waves that are more or less harmful depending on their frequency, the higher the frequency , the faster the waves and the more harmful they are. Harmful waves, such as gamma rays can kick atoms out of their place and cause permanent damage to our cells and DNA, causing cancer and other mortal diseases.

The most harmful ones are :

  • Gamma rays  : they are produced by the most extreme phenomenons in the unviverse, such as the explosion of a star or from black holes. We are constantly exposed to them, but in such infinitesimal rates that most of the time, they can be ignored. They can also be man-made in nuclear power plants.
  • X-rays  : these rays can only be man-made, they are known for easily penetrating soft material such as skin and are used in medical imaging among other things. It is not recomanded to stay exposed too long to them, you might die.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) : Situated at the far right of the visible spectrum, these rays can be seen, unlike the other two, thanks to specialised devices. 5% of the electromagnetic energy emanated from the sun are UV, they can easily penetrate the ozone layer and are the cause of tanning. They are necessary for us since they provide us in vitamin D, of course exposing yourself for too long to these rays can cause mutations and cancer in extreme cases.

    Frequency of electromagnetic waves

These 3 rays are the most dangerous ones since the waves they generate have such high frequency. Below UV, rays stop having any major impact on the human body.

Radio waves :

Radio waves are the ones we’re interested in, they’re radiated by every electric device we know of. These waves aren’t able to influence the molecules in our body. The best they can do is contract some of our muscles in certain circumstances. Long story short, using your electronic devices won’t provoke the appearance of cancer.

So why is there this belief that electronic devices can cause cancer :

This fear of getting cancer from our phones started when a study made in 1979 linked leukemia to living near a power line, time passed but no proof was found to confirm this study. Of course, it didn’t stop there, this study started a chain reaction and caused the appearance of multiple other studies trying to link electronic devices to diseases.

Media didn’t help either, whenever any kind of tiny hint linking the two was found, they didn’t waste any second to spread the news , removing all the crucial details and creating the buzz.

Finally, WHO, the World Health Organization, classified radio waves as possibly carcinogenic, reinforcing this belief. The problem is that WHO saying they are carcinogenic doesn’t mean that it is confirmed, it only means that there are hints that the two might be linked and that further research will have to be made to prove it.

But my head hurts every time i use my phone :

This is what’s known as the neucebo effect,  the placebo effect makes us believe something makes us feel better, the neucebo effect  is the contrary. We spend a lot of time on our electronic devices, be it phones, computers, tv, so whenever we get a fever or headache while using them, it’s not weird to think that they are the cause.

What’s not a neucebo though is the strain we feel in our eyes whenever we spend too much time in front of a screen. What causes this strain is the blue light which is situated just behind the UV, which means that it contains a good amount of energy. Blue light is something that we look at all the time and is the reason why the sky is blue, however, there are two types of blue light, the natural one which is low energy, and the one coming out of our screen which is high energy. Unlike UV, our eyes don’t block blue light, so the high energy blue light can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina. That is why using yellow teinted lenses helps releave the strain.

Effects of high energy blue light

Rencontres Montagnes et Sciences: Review

On Friday, November 8th and Saturday, November 9th, the Palais des Sports welcomed the sixth edition of the Rencontres Montagnes et Sciences in Grenoble. This event, organized by the Montagne et Sciences association, aims to validate researchers’ work and mountaineering experience by showcasing short adventure movies. The association was created by CNRS researchers Eric Larose and Maurine Montagnat, and, for the latest edition, seven films were broadcasted.

Entrée Ouest du Palais des Sports pour accéder aux Rencontres Montagnes et Sciences

The Rencontres are interesting in that they are planned for schoolchildren as well as adults. The first day is set on a school day on purpose: this way teachers can take their classes to the event during the afternoon. On Saturday, more adults and families with young children are available, and they go there as part of their weekend funtime. Plus, the entrance does not have a fixed price: visitors can pay from €3 to €12 (the recommended price being €8 to ensure the association’s perpetuity). This makes for an affordable price range when on a student budget, considering that you pay for an afternoon of movie-watching.

The movies that were promoted on Saturday were all enthralling, but the best one in my opinion was Indonésie, voyage en terre MATAROMBEO, directed by Gil Kebaïli and co-directed by Evrard Wendenbaum. The movie depicts an expedition led by French researchers in one of the most remote places on Earth: the Matarombeo massif, on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. Not only were the featured landscapes of untamed wilderness mesmerizing, but the explorers (as any other description of their feats would be an understatement) were astonishing in their resourcefulness and the skills they employed. Throughout the movie, as you watch them swim inside a partially submerged grotto, rock climb without a rope, examine stalactites, and make their own fire camp – you realize that modern Indiana Jones do exist. And that researchers are not doomed to spend the end of their days trapped in a lab.

The purpose of the movie was to be able to film the world’s smallest bovine, the Anoa, which had only been captured once before. During their expedition, they also made the first archaeological surveys on caves where human presence going thousands of years back could be detected. It really was a fascinating movie to watch, and the fact that they achieved their goal by filming two Anoas made it even more exciting.

As a scientist, to imagine that a landmass like Sulawesi still holds secrets from us and that we have just discovered a small part of it is invigorating. In my opinion, this is where the strength of the Rencontres resides: to make you discover eye-opening scenes from cozy Grenoble.

If you missed out on the Rencontres Montagnes et Sciences in Grenoble, fret not! The event is planned in many cities this winter, including Le Bourg d’Oisans, Valence, Clermont-Ferrand, Chambéry, and Lyon. Just click on the following link for more information: