I addressed the question of whether weak EMFs in the general and workplace environment could affect human physiology, and the question of how that effect occurred. The goal of my life project was to show unequivocally that EMF-induced biological effects were real, and that they were explainable on the basis of established neurophysiological and biophysical principles. I assumed that knowledge of the existence and mechanism of the effects would motivate independent scientists who came after me to study the implications of such effects with regard to public health.
I devised a two-part plan for my investigation. Initially I conducted many animal studies aimed at studying the physiological responses of animals to simulated EMFs typically found in the environment. When I began these studies, the common wisdom was that the energy levels of these EMFs were too low to affect the functioning of the animal or human body. In other words, from that perspective, physical law precluded the possibility that environmental EMFs could cause physiological effects. Based on my studies and similar ones by others, it is now universally recognized that man-made environmental-strength EMFs can affect all species of life on earth, including humans.
In the second phase of my work I explored how the human body recognizes the presence of EMFs. Such a recognition is a precondition to the occurrence of any biological consequence. Zoologists had discovered that many non-mammalian species could detect weak levels of electromagnetic energy and had described the cellular structure and physiological function of the detecting cells. In all cases they were located in the nervous system, and they detected the signals by means of a process called “transduction,” so I focused my inquiry on the nervous system under the hypothesis that mammalian EMF detection was a form of sensory transduction.
Together with many colleagues, I carried out animal experiments that showed the mammalian EMF-detecting cells were not located throughout the body (as for example the cells that detect heat or touch), but rather were concentrated in the head region. I also showed that transduction of the EMFs could be explained by a biophysical model that was consistent with the laws of physics, a result that solved the prior dispute regarding that point.
I utilized the results of the animal studies to help design an appropriate human exposure system, and began measuring the human electroencephalogram (EEG). The laboratory procedure consisted of measuring the EEG using the same equipment routinely used in clinical medicine. If human beings detected environmental EMFs by means of transduction, as I hypothesized, then based on the known functional nature of the animal and human nervous systems, the transduced signal must propagate to the brain, which is where cognitive processing occurs. Thus it is as certain as anything can be in biology that the EEG must differ after such propagation has occurred, compared with what the EEG had been in the absence of the EMF. My goal in the EEG studies was to use the scientific method in a sequential series of independent but related experiments to investigate whether brain electrical activity in humans was affected when subjects were exposed to different but related EMFs under distinct but related conditions, all for the purposes of testing different but related hypotheses.
In these early human studies, we analyzed EEGs using spectral analysis, which at the time was the method routinely used by neurologists to study human EEGs. We were able to prove that 65–75% of the subjects we studied actually detected the EMFs we applied, but we had envisioned a global detection process in which all the subjects detected the EMFs. We therefore regarded our initial series of EMF EEG studies as inadequate for our purposes, and began developing a new method of EEG analysis that was superior to spectral analysis.
In the literature I found descriptions of an innovative mathematical technique for analyzing signals that was based on a new theory of where the EEG signals came from. In the old view, the EEG was regarded as the sum of contributions from countless individual cells located in the brain just under the scalp. The new view was that the EEG came from everywhere in the brain and was actually the result of a complex interaction of unbelievably large numbers of interconnected cells located throughout the brain, all of which made some contribution to the EEG. As this view was becoming the accepted model in the field of cognitive neuroscience, mathematicians working in the area of chaos theory developed novel techniques for analyzing signals like the EEG. We modified and adapted these techniques to develop a method for detecting the changes in brain electrical activity that were caused by EMF transduction. The novel mathematical method we developed, called Analysis of Brain Recurrence (ABR), is an algorithm that runs on a computer and extracts physiological information from the EEG.
We began a second series of EMF EEG studies that ultimately resulted in fourteen distinct prospective studies performed over ten years. Except for two studies that employed subjects who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, all of the studies involved clinically normal subjects. Each study was designed to test a different hypothesis, and each study involved different EMF stimuli. Each study sought to refine or otherwise advance development of ABR to discern from EEGs whether the subject perceived a stimulus, and thus to demonstrate ABRís ability to reveal physiological information that could not be detected using standard methods like spectral analysis.
The subjects were exposed to common EMFs, the type produced by household wiring, powerlines, and cell phones. A weak light stimulus, similar to the on/off light on a radio, or a weak sound stimulus, similar to a house doorbell, were used as control stimuli. EMFs were generated by means of current-carrying coils, like a solenoid in the starting system of a car, by applying a voltage to two metal plates, which simulated the electrical environment near household wiring, and by using an antenna. The last study in this sequence of studies will be published in the summer of 2016. In these studies we established unequivocally that weak electrical energy such as that produced by household wiring, powerlines, and cell phones can affect brain electrical activity, indicating that EMF detection is a fundamental human sensory capability, like detection of light, heat, or sound.
All of the studies described, and those described below, are available on this site for download as PDF files.
During the EMF studies ABR matured into a powerful method for analyzing the EEG that could do far more than prove EMFs affected brain activity. In essence, ABR extracts four markers of brain electrical activity that occurs over any time interval of interest, say one second. This capability permits successive seconds of the EEG to be objectively compared with one another to determine how the brain is changing over time, even in the absence of a stimulus. Further, the extent of the temporal changes can be compared between different persons. Consequently, after reference values have been determined in clinically normal persons, ABR can be used to help diagnose neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis, and depression, because brain activity differs when these disorders are present..
When the EEG that is analyzed is that obtained during sleep, the diagnostic power of ABR is greatly increased because, during sleep, the brain may be in any of multiple, distinct states, compared with only one state that exists during wake. Four markers can then be calculated for each state, resulting in numerous markers that collectively characterize the brain electrical activity. Powerful modern statistical techniques can be used to combine the markers that characterize the brain activity in a given subject to determine the presence and degree of severity of clinical disorders. This diagnosis can be made rapidly, reliably, and far more economically than any other known method..
Studies describing the use of ABR for diagnosing neurocognitive disorders are available on this website for download as PDF files.
The scientific, clinical, and commercial applications of ABR remain to be pursued. Whoever does so should recognize and acknowledge where ABR ultimately came from, the intuition, dedication, selflessness, and high ethical outlook of one of the greatest physician-scientists of the last century, Robert O. Becker.