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Random Genius: The Microwave


What's a little mind control in exchange for a 5-minute meal?

In 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer, an engineer with the Raytheon Corporation (RTN), was testing vacuum tubes for a research project. After stopping in front of a radar set, Spencer noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted.

Voila: The microwave oven was born.

The first commercial microwave weighed 670 pounds and was almost 6 feet tall. An electrician was required for installation, and a plumber had to install a water pipe to cool the oven's radar tube. The price? About $2,000 - the equivalent of roughly $20,000 today.

As William Hammack described it in American Heritage Magazine, there's nothing new about heating with radiation:

"[It's] what sunlight is. Visible and infrared radiation have always been used for cooking, from the glowing coals of ancient times to today's electric broilers, heat lamps, and Easy Bake ovens. These types of radiation cannot penetrate the surface of most foods, so they work only on the outside... But microwaves, which are a type of radio wave, can pass through the outer layer of food (just as they pass through the walls of a house) and heat the interior directly."

By 1975, sales of microwave ovens exceeded sales of gas ranges for the first time.

Minyanville's Random Genius Somehow, the microwave seems to have increased our waistlines. Jane Wardle, professor of clinical psychology at the University College of London, says obesity rates started to rise soon after 1984 - around the time of the rapid spread of microwave ownership.

At the Cheltenham Science Festival last April, Professor Wardle said:

"We looked at the figures showing rates of obesity in the population over many years and it seems very clear it began between 1984 and 1987.

"So then we looked at what changes were going on in diet and lifestyle at that time [and noticed a] striking the speed with which we could prepare a meal as a consequence of the introduction of microwaves."

Anyone who hates to cook knows exactly where she's coming from - and likely loves being able to nuke a dinner in minutes.

However, not everyone is a fan of the microwave. Dr. Rauni Kilde, formerly the Chief Medical Officer for Lapland, had this to say to London's Transmedia Productions in 1999:

"Military and police agencies can follow every user, influence their thoughts through microwaves, cause healthy people to hear voices in their heads, and, if needed, burn their brains in a second by increasing the current 20,000 times."

Dear reader, excuse me, if you will, for just a moment - I'm heating up a slice of pizza in the office microwave.

That was fast. 30 seconds, and I'm eating like a king.

Wait, what was that?

What did you just say to me? Who's there?

I'm hearing voices!

Call Dr. Kilde! Help!
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