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Networking Wireless Networking Science

9th Grade Science Experiment: Garden Cress Won't Germinate Near Routers 327

New submitter SessionExpired writes "Five 9th graders from Denmark have shown that garden cress won't germinate when placed near a router (Google Translation of Danish original). Article text is in Danish, but the pictures illustrate their results. The exact mechanism is still unknown (Danish original), but experts have shown interest in reproducing the experiment."
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9th Grade Science Experiment: Garden Cress Won't Germinate Near Routers

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  • Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RightSaidFred99 ( 874576 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:06PM (#43756597)

    They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

    Simplest explanation is the additional heat which was nearby but not enough to alter room temperature affected them.

  • by vivaoporto ( 1064484 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:11PM (#43756667)
    The experiment was setup to validate a foregone conclusion. The (probable, as I can't read the Danish complete report) untested control factor was the impact the different rooms had in the absence of the routers. Retesting both samples without the presence of the routers could fix this issue.

    Anyway, it is good science (it is testable and verifiable) but bad journalism.

    Unless it can be reproduced or its mechanism explained, it is nothing but fuel to add to the "communication radiation exposure is bad" hysteria.
  • Now do it again (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Clueless Moron ( 548336 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:13PM (#43756699)
    but this time move the routers to the other room. As it stands, they still don't know if it was the routers causing the problem or something else in that particular room (temperature, draft, amount of sunlight, etc).
  • by Stoutlimb ( 143245 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:14PM (#43756717)

    Some local newspaper has grabbed hold of the story and the implication is that the result is solid science, where in fact it is either a preliminary discovery, or an aberration of some sort. Things like this happen all the time, which is why there is a need for reproducing the results, which has not yet been done. However, the story is already circling the globe and no doubt this will add more fuel to the fire of people claiming this type of radiation is harmful. It's irresponsible journalism on Slashdot's part by posting this story and over-hyping something that could be nothing. Next thing we know, every lab error will be either heralded as cold fusion, the discovery of dark matter, or space aliens, if we go by the standard of proof in this article. When this most likely goes sour, I hope it doesn't turn off those hard working kids from science altogether.

    That being said, I would be interested if this experiment was reproduced by several respectable researchers, but the skeptic in me says that this will likely not happen. This story is really jumping the gun, and doesn't belong in anything but a small town Danish newspaper, let alone Slashdot.

  • Re:Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:17PM (#43756761) Homepage Journal

    They should have used a control, and put cress near a lamp bulb that gives off the same amount of heat.

    Simplest explanation is the additional heat which was nearby but not enough to alter room temperature affected them.

    Typical routers (i presume they are talking about an 802.11 router here) will emit 150 to 250 mW per radio. Even in a 3 radio version the total power is still less than 1W (depending on how high the bandwidth utilization was), and it's certainly spread beyond just the plate of seeds sitting next to it. That 1W of heat energy would have an amazingly small change in overall temperature on the subject, probably not even enough to measure with conventional instruments.

  • by MaxToTheMax ( 1389399 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:30PM (#43756943)
    Wifi routers operate on microwave frequencies. It's possible that the harmful effects on the seeds were culinary rather than carcinogenic; that is, the seeds' internal temperatures were raised slightly, cooking them to death, instead of genetic damage. On the other hand, a human body has a giant active cooling system (the bloodstream and skin,) so minute temperature variations are less harmful. Alternate explanation: Based on my understanding of botany, I believe plant seeds usually consist of relatively few unusually large cells. This means there are fewer copies of each chromosome to go around, so damage to one chromosome is much more catastrophic than it would be in an adult human body, where mutations happen all the time and it's really no big deal. Finally, consider the inverse square law. The amount of radiation, say, two inches from a router, is vastly less than the amount of radiation a foot and a half away.
  • Re:well done kids! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 17, 2013 @04:45PM (#43757121)

    To the contrary, teaching kids that ignoring controls to seek a desired result encourages the type of junk science so common today. The teacher should instead explain how heat caused the germination to suffer and to determine the true impact, heat would have to be controlled for.

  • Re:Need a control. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Peter H.S. ( 38077 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @05:11PM (#43757501) Homepage

    They placed the AP's so that the heat they generated wouldn't affect the garden cress. Room temperature was computer monitored and regulated, the humidity was regulated, and they photographed the batches to document that no drying up or rot was present. They mixed the seed batches, randomized the seed selection etc etc.

    The experimental setup and their elimination of errors and bias is considered to of very high quality, which is why they won a junior science prize. Their actual result meant nothing in that regard.

    The first experiment was with idle AP's only broadcasting ESSID. The second experiment added some Linux laptops that ping-flooded to generate lots of network activity. The second experiment showed a clear increase in plant "damage" /lack of development.

  • EM "attack" vectors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @05:23PM (#43757653)

    I remember watching a TED talk a while back about a fellow who was perfecting an electromagnetic cancer-killing device that was looking to be extremely effective. Perhaps a similar phenomina is in play here. Basically part of the DNA duplication process prior to cell division involves stringing out the chromosomes into long electrostatically-bonded chains. By electromagnetically interfering in that process the device caused virtualy all replicating cells to die, with the few survivors typically being extremely sickly. Since in most parts of the body cancer cells are the only ones replicating with any frequency the device presented a method of selectively destroying cancer cells without significantly harming the surrounding tissue. Initial studies done on people with inoperable or recurrent tumors showed success on par with intensive chemotherapy, but without the horrible side effects.

    So anyway - we know that at least some EM fields are capable of killing replicating cells, and that's kind of the primary activity of embrryonic cells, so that could perhaps be the reason the seeds failed to germinate. Of course I have no idea what the strength, frequency, etc. of the anti-cancer device's EM fields were, so maybe it's not relevant, but something worth considering at least.

    Another "attack vector" is that fats typically absorb microwaves far more efficiently than water, and are an important component of cell membranes. That means microwave heating would is actually concentrated on the protective membrane around the cell, and in an embryo that membrane is in the process of growing very rapidly as the initial cell subdivides, and may be more vulnerable to damage.

  • Re:No reproduction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Friday May 17, 2013 @07:23PM (#43758603) Homepage Journal

    "Or just as likely, they just faked the data. "

    As someone that has performed similar radiation experiments as part of my research into zero-light horticulture, faking this is very doubtful, as I've encountered the same issues. Germination rates in the area of our facility with wireless access are roughly half of that on the other side of the shed that is totally free of radiation in that frequency range thanks to the natural faraday cage (the entire structure is grounded, metal walls and supports, etc.) that the facility provides. You can't even use your cell phone two feet inside the door.

  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @08:32PM (#43759097)

    Which is why we have known cases of human sterilization due to exposure to radar and microwave frequencies at high power? If you ever work in the industry, you would see warnings on the equipment that call that aspect out (Civilian and Military).

    I think we have a spoiler fail!

  • by Vegan Cyclist ( 1650427 ) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @02:55AM (#43760451) Homepage
    I've had a lot of experience in sprouting (alfalfa, beans like chickpeas, peas, lentils, etc) - i'm going to make two batches from the same mix of seeds/beans, and place one beside my wifi router, and see what happens...

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel