Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trivia - How do Ants Survive in Microwave Oven?

Google Answers is no longer accepting questions.
We're sorry, but Google Answers has been retired, and is no longer accepting new questions. Search or browse the existing Google Answers index by using the search box above or the category links below.

Arts and Entertainment

Reference, Education and News
Business and Money

Relationships and Society

Family and Home

Sports and Recreation


FD: What is real science?

I have been teaching the sciences for over ten years in local high schools, public and private. This year's batch of Biology freshmen were not really very good scientists. They were more focused on my giving them the information to memorize. Then, they argue for word bank type questions; so they don't have to memorize.

Since the Advent of Google, you can make the arguement that having students memorize stuff would be a waste of their time: Google Knows Everything (GKE).

This thread or article (or whatever you want to call what we do now) is a perfect example of both the knowledge and skills of real science.

It is always hard to get students to understand that if you can Google the answer, then it is not real science. Fact, maybe. You don't need science to answer the question or the problem that confronts you: you just look it up somewhere. No experiment is needed. No Scientific logic is applied.

No Scientific Method: Just look it up. The lab is just a re-enactment of historical problem solving this week... so, let's not do it. Too dangerous. Too expensive. Too time consuming. Too much prep. Too messy. Too much work.

Over time, I see more of that being possible and for most of my students necessary... they have fewer and fewer life experiences and less and less common sense. Discovery Channel. Wiki Answers: ChaCha on their cell phones:

And then this week, I see on my blog the convergence of Animal Stories and the Attack on the Mars Orbiter by Solar Radiation Particles then this one shows up.

Now, we might have the basis for REAL Science and not BAD Science (BS)... let's see.

Subject: Ants in a microwave oven.
Category: Science Asked by: racecar-ga List Price: $2.00
Posted: 15 Nov 2002 10:40 PST Expires: 15 Dec 2002 10:40 PST Question ID: 108430

I got to work this morning a little sleepy and shoved my breakfast in
the microwave oven. After five minutes, it was finished cooking, and
upon removing it, I noticed several ants inside the oven, apparently
unphased by the intense microwave radiation. I mentioned this to the
guy across the hall (a more frequent user of the oven), and he said
he'd noticed the same thing, and no longer bothers to remove the ants
before heating his food.
How can the ants survive? Surely they must contain at least some
water, which absorbs microwave energy, and is what makes microwave
cooking effective in most foods. Are they simply too small? They're
certainly tiny compared with the wavelength of the microwaves, which
is almost 5 inches. But it seems to me that shouldn't matter: the
ants ought to experience an oscillating electric field which excites
the water molecules in them, regardless of how small they are.
Perhaps they're only safe because they crawl along the metal bottom
and sides of the oven, and would perish if they ventured up onto the
glass dish, where the amplitude of the fluctuating electric field is

Subject: Re: Ants in a microwave oven.
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 15 Nov 2002 11:32 PST Rated:

Dear racecar-ga;
Thank you for allowing me to research your question.
To understand the reason why an ant survives in a microwave oven is to
understand the way a microwave oven works. A microwave oven emits a
form of energy called ‘standing waves”. That is to say that evenly
spaced, stationary waves of energy bombard the turntable (or plate) in
a vertical fashion so that only specific areas of the turntable are
struck by the waves. Everything inside the microwave is not
necessarily exposed to the waves, especially when the turntable is
motionless. This is why you notice that certain portions of your food
are well heated while others remain cold whenever the turntable is not
moving. The sole purpose of the moving turntable is to ensure that all
areas of the food pass through the stationary ‘standing waves”.
Increasing the intensity of the microwave oven doesn’t turn up the
heat, it activates more ‘standing waves” in a given area of space.
The physical size of an object has little to do with its
susceptibility to microwave generated heat. In fact, chemists use
microwave technology to heat sub-micron particles. The ant’s size only
comes into play because he is able to navigate between the ‘standing
waves’ by sensing the areas where there is high volume heat and low
volume heat. You can visualize the patterns of low heat v. high heat
by filling a paper plate with marshmallows and putting them in the
oven with the turntable turned off. After a few seconds you will see a
pattern of melt or blistering on the marshmallows that are exposed
while the others seem unaffected. Additionally, the intensity of the
waves is greater in some areas than in others. You can see this by
putting a pat of butter on the surface of the turntable and another on
the bottom of an overturned paper cup. The one on the cup will melt
long before the one on the turntable, because the wave intensity is
lower near the bottom and sides of the oven than it is at various
points elevated just above the turntable (where food heaped on a is
plate usually located).
A single ant, or even a few ants, can simply walk around between the
waves of energy, making their way from one safe area to the next, and
avoid getting nuked. If, on the other hand, you put a thousand ants in
your microwave and agitate them so that they are running around in a
panic, you will, without a doubt, see many of them turned to toast.
I hope this provides an answer to your question. I look forward to
working with you again in the near future.
Best regards;

“Ant Like Microwaves”
“The Zoh Show - Ants Can Survive Microwaves”
“The New Scientist”
Engine used:
Google ://
Search terms used:
Ants, survive, microwave

Request for Answer Clarification by racecar-ga on 21 Nov 2002 14:57 PST
This is a comment, not a request for answer clarification, but I can't
seem to post a comment, I suppose since the question is closed. I did
try the marshmellow experiment, and was disappointed. The
marshmellows just puffed up to several times their original size, and
no standing wave pattern was visible. I have been doing some
expermentation though (including, I admit, some of an ethically
questionable nature involving ants), and have formed an opinion: I
believe the most important factor is the small electric field
magnitudes experienced by the ants due to their proximity to the metal
wall. For example, an ant on top of a plastic cup in the microwave
oven fairs far worse than one crawling on the oven floor. A second
factor, of undetermined importance, is the high surface-area-to-volume
ratio of the ants, which allows them to dissipate heat efficiently
(the air around them is not heated by the microwaves). I have come to
believe that the 'standing wave' pattern is of only minor importance,
at least in my (newish) oven. The experiments which led to this
conclusion involved receipts from fast food restaurants. Most such
establishments now print receipts on heat sensitive paper. By soaking
the receipts in water (thus allowing them to absorb microwave energy),
a much more accurate visualization of heating pattern may be obtained
than with marshmellows. Heating appears to be quite uniform.
Perhaps, however, uniformity of heating is a function oven design, and
ants in other microwave ovens may have more success finding cool spots
than they would in mine.

Clarification of Answer by tutuzdad-ga on 21 Nov 2002 18:44 PST
Dear racecar-ga;
You may be right that your microwave, being a later model, may be less
suitable for the pattern experiement than others. It is also possible
that this particular visualization works best when the oven is set at
it's lowest setting. Be sure the turntable IS NOT TURNING when you
conduct it; otherwise you can expect all areas of the marshmallows to
be equally exposed. Additionally, it would be logical to turn the oven
off at the first sign of any blistering on the marshmallow surface. Do
not depend on any one setting alone. You will need to determine this
point with your own eyes just in time to see the results. Even then
the pattern may be only slight enough to detect.
Suffice it to say that the standing wave technology "is" the
technology that a mocrowave employs. It goes without saying, then,
that this technology is being improved upon on a regular basis.
Someday, it may be virtually impossible for an ant to survive a
microwave - and it looks like that day is rapidly approaching.
Good luck

racecar-ga rated this answer:
Thanks for the prompt answer. I'll definitely have to try the
marshmellow thing. I'm still not sure which is more important: ants
avoiding hot spots or decreased electric field magnitude near the
metal walls. Both are mentioned in the links provided.

No comments: