• Question: If you put a worm in a microwave will the infro red waves burn the worm or will it survive because they will just go over it? (this may sound silly but i heard it on a tv program)

    Asked by elizabethjanee to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 16 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      In a microwave the worm will just be exposed to microwaves, not infra-red waves (which are similar to microwaves but have a shorter wavelength). I would say that it is likely to absorb the microwaves, heat up (rather dramatically) and will probably explode.

      That is unless the distribution of the microwaves is uneven inside the oven and the worm can find a spot that is effectively in shadow and therefore doesn’t get exposed.

      Please don’t do this at home!!! Think of the poor worm (who, linking to another question, may be a re-incarnated human…).

    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      Oh I see what you mean. Inside a microwave oven the waves bounce off the back of the oven and set up standing waves. So there are parts which have strong microwaves that get hot and parts where there are no microwaves and the worm could sit there and be OK. That is why we have a turntable inside a microwave, so that your food gets evenly heated. You can test this by taking the turntable out and covering the bottom of the microwave with chocolate or marshmallows. You will see the hot areas where the chocolate has melted and the cool areas where it hasn’t.

      By doing this you can measure the wavelength of the microwave (the distance between the melted parts) It should be around 5 cm. Then you need to know the frequency, which will be written on the microwave somewhere (in Hz). You can then work out the speed of the microwave (which is the speed of light) since speed of light = frequency (Hz) X wavelength (in m). Great experiment hey?

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 15 Jun 2010:

      I don’t know whether anyone’s tried this, but I would expect the worm to die. I am not a physicist but I have done some little “experiments” with my microwave (not involving worms) which you should not try at home. Suffice it to say I convinced myself that small things can reach a high temperature in the microwave.

    • Photo: Steve Roser

      Steve Roser answered on 16 Jun 2010:

      Interesting question, worm torturer. The first answer is that microwaves don’t give off infra red rays. They use something very similar – microwaves! Infra red waves have higher energy than microwaves and make molecules vibrate a lot – this is what happens under a grill or in a toaster – the vibrations can break chemical bonds and thats why toast goes brown. Microwaves give energy to food (or worms) by spinning the water molecules – this doesn’t break bonds, so when you put bread in the microwave you get hot bread, not toast.
      Worms would be heated up because they, like us are mostly water, and would I’m afraid perish horribly