Posted by Christina Folz, OPN Managing Editor
Last Sunday night, the CBS news program 60 Minutes ran a fascinating story about a non-lethal “ray gun” that the Pentagon has developed. The weapon is a flat-dish antenna that shoots a 100,000-watt electromagnetic beam of high-frequency radio waves, hitting anything in its path with an intense blast of heat. Unlike in Buck Rogers, however, the beam is invisible unless viewed with an infrared camera. It does not inflict any lasting damage and just barely penetrates the body’s tissues. (It is absorbed only in the top 1/64 of an inch on the skin, which is where the pain receptors are located.) The weapon is chiefly intended as a crowd-control device.
The report reminded me of Steve Wilk’s March 2005 Light Touch article in OPN about “How Ray Guns Got their Zap,” which describes the real science behind the ray guns used by fictional heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The article explains the origins of the word “ray” and how it came to refer specifically to directional electromagnetic radiation.
2008-03 March, Biomedical optics, Optics and pop culture