Eleanor R. Adair, 86, Microwave Proponent

That was the headline in the NY Times obituary on May 6 for a great lady, leading researcher, courageous defender of microwaves and true friend of IMPI. In an extensive interview in the Times in 2001, Dr. Adair, or Ellie, as known to friends, defended microwave ovens and closed her interview by decrying the billions of dollars spent looking for evidence of hazards from exposure to electromagnetic energy---“because there is really nothing there.” At that time, the Times published a picture of her in a white lab coat in an anechoic chamber at the AF Research Lab in Brooks AFB, Texas where she was chief scientist for 5 years.

Her scientific prominence was built on decades of top-notch research, beginning with many years of exposure (at the John B. Pierce Foundation in New Haven, CT) of squirrel monkeys at warming levels of microwaves with no adverse results., followed by many short-term (e.g. 45 minutes) exposures of human volunteers to warming levels of microwaves , well above accepted safety limits, again with no adverse effects. (I was one of those volunteers).
Her role. in the last half-century, was juxtaposed in relation to the other great scientists who helped establish a rational understanding of the bioeffects of microwave exposure. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, before the creation of BEMS (Bioelectromagnetics Society) in 1979, there was no home society for researchers on microwave bioeffects. Thus many presented their results at IMPI symposia and in IMPI publications. IMPI even had a Safety Standards Committee, chaired by the eminent Prof. Herman P. Schwan, to which I was secretary.

Ellie was a charter member of BEMS, served as Secretary, and received the d’Arsonval Medal for outstanding research in 2007. A special issue of the BEMS journal was dedicated to her in 2003. Beyond that, however, Ellie had a vision of many potentially beneficial applications of microwave energy which are held back because of irrational fear of microwave “radiation”. She collaborated with Prof. Robert V. Pound, of Harvard, who proposed in ~1980, the comfort heating of humans by microwaves , at a frequency above 2.45 GHz—e.g. 5.8 or ~10 GHz. She compared notes with Dr. Charles Buffler, an IMPI luminary, who with his colleague, Ron Lentz, at Litton, was studying the human perception of microwaves in a screen room. (Dr. Buffler was also studying how microwaves can help prevent hypothermia in newborn lambs---he and his wife ran a small sheep farm in New Hampshire.). In 1995 and 1996, I hosted small parties at my home just before the meetings of BEMS and IMPI, in Boston, respectively, at which W. C. Brown (Bill) of Raytheon demonstrated microwave power transmission over a ~50 foot path in the early evening, to a rectenna, resulting in the energizing of a bank of lights. Ellie did not hesitate to go into the beam and see the lights go off. In 2001, at a meeting of the Space Studies Institute, in Princeton, New Jersey, Ellie recalled this incident and encouraged ongoing attempts to realize the revolutionary SPS (Solar Power Satellite) as one means of alleviating the energy crisis in the world.

She was a key leader in IEEE committees –both ICES (International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety) and COMAR (Committee on Man and Radiation). – but she often went beyond these formal duties to courageously defend current microwave technology, as in her appearance on “60 Minutes” in the early 90’s, defending police radar. In the late 80’s she led the creation of the annual Michaelson Research Conference in honor of the late Prof. Sol Michaelson, who had been a long-time consultant to AHAM and Member of IMPI.

Her life had broad aspects of human understanding. Besides hobbies like hiking and rooting for the Boston Red Sox, she was a serious supporter of the aspirations of the people in Tibet, with visits to the Dalai Lama. She and her family traveled extensively She got her husband, the distinguished Prof. Robert K. Adair, of Yale, involved in the controversy about safety of EM energy in the 80’s and 90’s and he helped both the IEEE committees as well as the EEA (Electromagnetic Energy Association)

Dr. Eleanor Adair recognized the problem of public acceptance of “microwaves’ and she often addressed the subject, as in a paper “Nurturing Electrophobia”. Her contributions have a lasting effect on the future of all microwave technology, especially those related to the scope of IMPI. She was a great scientist and person and is greatly missed.

John M. Osepchuk, Ph. D.
May 10, 2013.

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