Visualizing the electromagnetic fields around my laptop

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This post is from Mésange, my weekly ‘popup’ newsletter, from October 2022 to March 2023. < Previous | Next >

A bit more than a year ago, I started to study electromagnetic fields, after I started to suspect that I was electro-hypersensitive. We were still living in a small flat in Taipei, Taiwan.

I discovered I was surrounded by a lot of electromagnetic fields all day long, and that they sometimes had funny behaviors. I felt like trying to visualize them, to get more familiar with these invisible, yet real, things.

I started my exploration around my main work tool: my laptop. I measured electromagnetic radiation, electric fields, and magnetic fields.

I drew what I measured. And here is what I found.

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Visualizing electromagnetic radiation in our living room

Ok, Lénaïc, so, let’s see what the fields look like around the computer, which is sleeping and unplugged.

Commented picture showing radiofrequency radiations, electric fields, and magnetic fields in a living room, represented as color shades. The radiations are dominant, creating a orange kind of fog everywhere.

Wow, do you see like I do? This beautiful orange fog everywhere? What’s going on here? Which kind of fog is this?

I check my electromagnetic field meter (EMF meter). It says it represents radiation smog. That’s strange, no device in our flat is emitting any radiation. The laptop is sleeping, our cellphones are on airplane mode, and the Wi-Fi router is off.

I move around with the EMF meter, like a dog tracking a smell.

After a few seconds, I understand: the smog comes from our windows! On the 8th floor of a building, our flat offers a wide overview of the city. A pleasant feeling of openness, no obstacles. The downside of this openness, of course, is that majestic cellphone towers seem to happily irradiate our living room.

I wonder how much radiation I receive when I work here, in the middle of the living room. I put the EMF meter roughly where my head would usually be located: ~10 milliwatts per square meter (mW/m2) with peaks at ~15.

Is it safe?

I look at the EMF meter booklet. It reads: “according to our research, there have not been problems associated with levels staying below an average of 0.2 mW/m2 and peaks of 1 mW/m2”.

Oh! The average values around my head are ~50 times higher, with peaks ~15 times higher. No wonder why I have been feeling strange symptoms?

If you don’t mind, I propose we remove this fog, as I start to feel a bit dizzy! Let’s focus on the two other items of electromagnetic pollution: electric fields and magnetic fields.

If you want to dive more into understanding electromagnetic radiation, I wrote another article where I look for low-exposure spots in Taipei.

Visualizing electric and magnetic fields in our living room

Commented picture of a laptop charger and a laptop both unplugged. There is an electric field around a power outlet, and weak fluctuating electric and magnetic fields around the laptop, due to the ambiant radiation smog.

Ah, that’s much better.

But, wait, do you see the electric field around the electrical outlet on the wall?

What a funny shape… I didn’t know that there was something called an electric field around each electrical outlet on this planet. What a breakthrough!

I wonder what is the magnitude of the electric field I am exposed to when I sit against an outlet. According to my EMF meter, the field is higher than 1000 volts per meter (V/m) very close to the outlet’s holes, then decreases to undetectable levels at ~20 cm from the wall.

Is it safe?

I look at the EMF meter booklet. It reads: “according to our research, there have not been problems associated with levels staying below 50 V/m”.

I see. I should better stay away from outlets. 10-20 cm away seems enough.

Now, do you also see some small fluctuations on the laptop? I notice some electric fields and some magnetic fields.

But my laptop is sleeping and unplugged. How is that possible?

After a moment of disbelief, I understand: the metal box of the computer is acting like an antenna. Some electromagnetic radiation from the fog — also called radio frequencies — reaches the computer and gives its energy to the electrons of the laptop box. Electrons move, creating electric and magnetic fluctuating fields.

Did you also notice that electric fields and magnetic fields look very different from radiations? Unlike radiation, traveling in straight lines, a field has a shape. That’s why we call it a field, because it is a kind of aura surrounding objects.

Visualizing electric fields around a plugged cable

Ok, Lénaïc, now, let’s plug the charger into the outlet and see what happens.

Commented picture of a laptop charger plugged into a wall electric outlet. The wire of the charger, and the transformer of the charger are instantly surrounded by an electric field represented by a kind of purple aura.

Gorgeous! A kind of extraterrestrial purple snake that would have swallowed a couple of geometrical shapes.

The electric field now prolongs itself from the outlet, following the cable, gets wider, then narrower, then wider again around the transformer, and stops at the end of the cable.

There is something weird, though. I haven’t plugged the cable into the computer. Then, no electrons are moving along the cable. How is it possible to get an electric field if no electron moves?

At this point, I have to admit that I am not yet able to clearly explain this. But it is indeed what happens: as soon as I plug any cable into an electric outlet with alternating current, a field instantly appears all along the cable, whether the device is switched on or off.

Ok, so, it seems obvious that whenever I don’t use a cable, it is just better to unplug it.

And, now, what happens if I plug the cable into the computer?

Visualizing the electric and magnetic fields when I charge my laptop

Commented picture of a laptop charger plugged into a wall electric outlet. The wire of the charger, and the transformer of the charger are still surrounded by an electric field. The laptop is also instantly surrounded by the electric field. The only element which seems to neutralize the field is the ground: the field does not prolongues to the tiles and the walls.

Oh! I definitely get surprise after surprise…

Like a greedy snake, the electric field has now extended further, has captured my poor laptop, and even phagocyted the small cardboard on which it sits. Such a greedy snake, even the cardboard.

So, what?

I try many arrangements, and I eventually come to realize what happens: an electric field appears along any cable plugged into an outlet, extends to any surrounding object whether it conducts electricity or not, even wraps human bodies, until…

… until what? Only one thing seems able to neutralize greedy electric fields. Did you see it?

The ground.

In the picture, the electric field is narrow when the cable touches the ground, but extends further around when it is in the air. It extends to the laptop, even the cardboard below, but stops when it reaches the ground below the cardboard.

And so, from that realization, my life would be changed forever. I would develop this new obsession: Grounding everything. Including myself.

But, there is still something new in the picture, right?

A magnetic field surrounds the transformer. This is because of the copper coil inside. The coil transforms the 110 volts of alternating current from the electric outlet (in Taiwan) into 15 volts of direct current to charge the laptop’s battery. The movement of electrons along a coil automatically creates a magnetic field.

I wonder what is the magnitude of the field, say, if I mess my feet around the transformer while working on the computer. The EMF meter shows that the field is higher than 100 milliGauss (mG) very close to the transformer, then decreases to undetectable levels at ~20 cm from the transformer.

Is it safe?

I look at the EMF meter booklet. It reads: “according to our research, there have not been problems associated with levels staying below 3 mG”.

I see. So, I should better stay away from transformers too. Just 15-20 cm away seems enough.

What breakthroughs.

I am about to send this letter, when I suddenly realize: How many other kinds of subtle things are here, around me, right now? I don’t see them, I am not even aware of their existence. Yet, they might have negative, or positive impacts on me. Right now.

The method I used to make this experiment

How I made the measurements

I used a Trifield EMF meter model TF2. I measured (non-weighted) values of radio frequencies, electric field, and magnetic field at different distances from the electric outlet, the cable, the transformer, the laptop.

The human body influences electric fields’ shape and absorbs part of electromagnetic radiation. So, I always hold the EMF meter the same way, and I reproduced the measurements several times — “experimental replicates” — to make sure I was obtaining consistent results.

As soon as I grasped the actual shape of the fields, I draw my measured points on the picture (this magnitude at that location). Finally, I linked the dots with lines to draw the full shapes of the fields. That is, I interpolated, I assumed the location of missing dots between measured dots.

Safe values for electromagnetic fields exposure are kind of controversial

Official safe limits highly depend on countries. Compared to official safe limits, the ones I used here, from the booklet of my EMF meter, are quite low. But some authors advise even lower safe limits, like building biologists, based on scientific publications.

Did you enjoy this post?

Great! Then, you may also like to see where I found low-exposure spots in Taipei city.

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Lénaïc Pardon
Lénaïc Pardon

I am a kind of researcher-explorer. I am French, introverted, and hypersensitive. I value a lot freedom, creativity, and altruism. I am curious about almost anything, but I do have a preference for topics around simple living: permaculture, nature, craftsmanship, autonomy, philosophy, the mysteries of life… More about me and my work >