Lead researchers

Professor Elena Ivanova, School of Science, RMIT with Professor Rodney Croft, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, and Dr. Denver Linklater School of Science, RMIT. 


RMIT University

Research timeframe

2022 – 2024 

Funded amount


Research abstract

Radiofrequency (RF) Electromagnetic Energy (EME), also known as radio waves, is a type of non-ionising radiation used in wireless telecommunications, including 5G. The only established health effect of non-ionising radiation is thermal heating of tissue. 

Previous RMIT research has found evidence that exposure to radio waves at a frequency of 18 GHz can induce a reversible change to cell membrane permeability.  This effect occurs at a high ‘specific energy absorption rate’ (SAR) - which is the power absorbed into biological tissue per unit mass. RMIT observed this occurring at 1 kW/kg, which is well above the 2W/kg SAR limit in the ARPANSA safety standard. 

This phenomenon has been observed only at levels well above the allowable exposure limit and does not pose any risk to the community. This study will systematically investigate the frequencies and exposure levels at which changes can be observed. 

In this study, RMIT researchers will expose bacterial and mammalian cells to varying radio wave frequencies, ranging from 5 to 18 GHz. Researchers will also adjust the power density from as low as the public limit of 2W/kg (ARPANSA’s safety standard), and then increase to much higher levels that are known to cause adverse health effects - above 20W/kg. 

This project will provide valuable information regarding radio waves above 6 GHz, determining the minimum SAR required to cause cell change, and therefore consider whether these findings would be relevant to the radio waves used in current and future 5G networks. 

This funded research study will provide further evidence of effects of 18 GHz radio waves and add to the global body of knowledge on this topic, which is of particular interest as 5G infrastructure begins to use higher frequency radio waves in Australia and internationally. 

This research supports ARPANSA’s commitment to advancing research of electromagnetic energy and protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation.

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