Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio &
Television News, published 1919 - 1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
God, man! Drilling holes in his head isn't the answer! Now put away
your butcher knives and let me save this patient before it's too
late!" Those classic words were uttered by Dr. McCoy in Star
Trek IV: The Voyage Home, after Lt. Chekov (promoted from Ensign
after the TV series) sustained brain damage as a result of falling
from a 'nuclear wessel' when 20th century naval surgeons were about
to open his skull to
relieve pressure from swelling. Look at these images from a 1932
article on using radio waves "to produce protective fever in killing
germs of a number of diseases." 10 to 30 meters was a popular wavelength
band at a power of about 500 watts. The patient's body part to be
treated is placed between the plates to act "as a dielectric" while
the liquids are heated via induced oscillations similar to how a
microwave oven works. How did the doctors know when the treatment
was complete? A thermometer in the mouth was monitored for a temperature
rise of about 1 degree Fahrenheit. Yikes. Anyone out there think
that the opinions of a consensus of 'experts' should never be challenged?
I have been informed by website visitor Eric J. that shortwave
is still used in modern medicine! The FCC has allocated shortwave
frequencies 13.56 MHz, 27.12 MHz, and 40.68 MHz for
its use. Although the machines are modernized and automated, they
fundamentally don't look a lot different from the ones in the article.
I wonder if the new models include a thermometer for placing in
the patient's mouth to monitor the body temperature rise? Apologies
to shortwave diathermyologists(?) for poking fun at their medieval-looking
How High-Frequency Electric Fields are used in Modern Medicine to
Produce Radio Fever
By Irving J. Saxl, Ph.D.
A Patient Undergoing Treatment In this
machine the patient is rolled in blankets and laid upon
a rubber air-cushion between the two large condenser plates.
In the right foreground is the control board for adjusting
the machine Photos Courtesy Amy, Aceves and King
Radio sciences, heretofore used primarily for communication in various
forms, have opened a new field beneficial to humanity. The author
tells of recent investigation in using short radio waves in connection
with their therapeutic effects in raising the body temperature to
produce protective fever in killing germs of a number of diseases
Now it is possible, with the use of radio waves produced
by machines similar to radio transmitters of the short-wave type,
to heat up the human body and to give it the therapeutic benefit
of raised temperature (fever) in a purely physical way, without
the use of chemicals. A new and valuable tool is thus presented
by the physicist to the physician; a clean process which can be
easily controlled without the aid of the drug store and the apothecary.
What is fever? Fever is an increase of the normal body temperature,
together with a general functional derangement, a higher pulse rate,
etc. A body with raised temperature has marked changes in its metabolism;
for instance, it is able to eliminate poisons, destroy bacteria
and other destructive elements of the body at an increased rate.
This is of tremendous importance for maintaining health.
For instance, in a body infected with bacteria, the heat-regulating
mechanism automatically raises the temperature in such a way that
the disease virus finds less favorable living conditions at the
But the diseased body cannot always help
itself in a sufficient degree. It has been found necessary in many
instances to raise the temperature of the body by chemical means,
e.g., the injection of proteins, malaria and other germs, which
in producing the curative fever often produced other unfavorable
Fever in a Limited Area
Radio-Thermic Apparatus in Full View Figure 1. This photograph shows the construction of
the high-frequency tube generator used in the fever machine.
At the extreme left is the step-up transformer. The inductance
coil and vacuum tube are show at center, as well as the
sliding frame in which the condenser plates are let down
when not in use.
If there was only a small part of the body which should have been
raised to a higher temperature, it was necessary to heat the entire
body, although, naturally, a limited area can stand a much more
severe temperature increase than a general treatment.
radio has made it possible to heat up the desired limited areas
to temperatures far above those obtainable by chemical means, and
under fully controllable conditions.
What is this wonder
instrument which can perform these effects, and how does it work?
This so-called fever machine, in its essential parts, consists of
a transmitter similar to a radio transmitter for short waves. A
high-frequency field is generated by this transmitter, but the energy
is not radiated into space by an aerial system, but concentrated
between two or more condenser plates. In this high-frequency field,
without any galvanic contact, the body of the patient is placed,
the body acting as a dielectric between these plates.
electric current, direct current as well as alternating, heats up
the body it passes into. For the body to stand a satisfactory amount
of current with an analogous temperature increase, without undue
changes in its physiological and chemical composition, a high-frequency
current has to be used. Only if frequencies of the order of millions
of cycles per second are used do the excitation of muscular contractions,
known as faradization, and of chemical reactions due to polarization,
known as galvanization, cease.
Figure 1 shows a general
picture of a so-called fever machine, or radio-thermic oscillator.
The short-wave transmitter is located in the lower part of the case.
The high-frequency oscillations are obtained from a simple short-wave
transmitter which is fed by a push-pull circuit, delivering about
tubes of the vacuum type are employed, each delivering about 250
watts. About 380 to 400 milliamperes in plate current is consumed.
In the radio-thermic oscillator shown above two tubes, type 504-A
or its equivalent type UV-204-A, are used.
works on 110 to 115 volts, alternating current, of 50 to 60 cycles,
and requires about 15 amperes input from the current supply.
The plate voltage is produced by a transformer shown at the
left side of the picture in Figure 1. The high-tension current is
rectified by two full-wave mercury-vapor rectifiers, and the voltage
variations are smoothed out by filters.
The inductance of
the high-frequency circuit consists of about nine windings, with
coils of about 10 inches diameter. The capacity in the transmitter
circuit are the two plates located at the top of the cabinet, and
the patient is placed between them as a dielectric.
The Circuit Essentials
The Oscillator Circuit Essentials Figure
2. The schematic diagram for the push-pull generator used
in perusing the high-frequency currents in the machine developed
by Amy, Aceves and King
This apparatus is about 6 feet long. 36 inches wide and 30 inches
high. The condenser plates slide down into slots without removal.
The instruments for controlling the current intensity and the wavelength
at the right side of the picture) are placed in such a way that
they are easily accessible.
This machine delivers about
10 megacycles, corresponding to a wavelength of about 30 meters.
Figure 2 gives a diagram of this machine. The diagram, together
with the data mentioned before, is self-explanatory. V1
and V2 are rectifier
tubes in a full-wave circuit, from which the plate voltage is taken
for the operation of the vacuum tubes V3
and V4. These operate
upon the self-inductance coil L4 in push-pull and create the high-frequency
field applied around the plates of the condenser C10,
between which the patient is placed.
Apparatus of a similar
type is also used by A. Gosset, G. Lakhowsky and others in France,
and by Esau in Jena. The General Electric Company also has entered
this field. Gosset and his collaborators had an adaptable apparatus
which was able to work on wavelengths as short as 2 meters.
The frequency is measured by a small oscillating wavemeter circuit,
consisting of an inductance, a condenser and a little flashlight
bulb in series with it. For determining the wavelength, the condenser
is turned slowly until the filament starts lighting. Then the wavemeter
is removed as far s possible, thee condenser being regulated so
that the filament of the lamp just glows.
The exact wavelength
of the main radiation is at that point where the filament just glows
up for a single condenser reading. Care has to be taken not to burn
out the lamp by moving the condenser too quickly while the wavemeter
is near the transmitter, as the increase in power "grows" swiftly
as the condenser approaches the point of resonance.
working with high sensitivity, the wavemeter has to be removed from
near the oscillator, so that the filament just shows a faint glow.
The machine developed by Amy, Aceves and King, Inc., in
cooperation with Dr. Ramirez, of the French Hospital, New York City,
uses an air mattress, upon which the patient is laid between the
condenser plates; rubber and air being an excellent insulator, so
that the high-frequency field is not lessened and can work within
the body of the patient.
Method of Treatment
European Type of Apparatus Figure 3.
This fever machine was developed by Professor Esau, and
works on ten meters. The high-frequency field can be concentrated
between the two small condenser plates shown at the end
of the treatment tube. It makes possible a much more intensive
treatment with the short waves over an area of the body
that can be kept relatively small.
For heating up the patient, the entire apparatus, which is on rollers,
is removed from any location near walls which contain steel, as
this naturally would tend to induce high-frequency currents within
the structural material. The patient is rolled in blankets and placed
between the condenser plates. It has proven practical to dress the
patient, first, in a woolen union suit. Thus perspiration is removed
automatically and cannot accumulate, in drops, upon the skin. This
is important, as these fluid drops heat up quicker than the body
and cause burns upon the skin ."
The position of the patient
is important. If we place one hand between the condenser plates,
and the current is put on, the hand will feel the heat quicker if
the hand is held in an imaginary plane which connects the condenser
plates. The temperature increase, however, is less under equal current
conditions when the hand is held parallel to the plates. This experiment
can be performed easiest with one of the small condenser machines
described later in this article. For heating up the patient more
quickly, his feet and shoulders are arranged so that they touch
The apparatus is arranged so that about
one degree temperature increase takes place in 15 minutes, the temperature
being measured by a thermometer in the mouth of the patient. The
patient is heated and kept in his warm blankets after the current
has been turned off. It is interesting to note, in this connection,
that the pulse rate increases for some time after the patient has
been removed from the high-frequency field. The fever does not stop
immediately after the patient is taken out of the condenser. Thus
he keeps his "fever" temperature for several hours. Warm lemonade
and tea are given him to replace the loss of fluid substance and
to increase perspiration. If the fever does not stop by itself after
a prescribed time, ice bags are administered. This method produces
less strain on the heart of the patient and is certainly more effectively
controlled by the physician than with quinine and other chemicals
after malaria or protein injections.
Charts showing the
temperature increase have been prepared by Dr. Ramirez, as shown
in Figure 4. These also give data for the changes of the pulse rate
and the respiration during the fever treatment.
Blood Pressure and Other Reactions
An Experiment with the Esau Device
Figure 5. Mounted between the operating electrodes are glass
cells filled with a fluid resembling body fluids. Thus a
study is made of the effect of high-frequency fields upon
a "phantom" organism. Temperature is recorded; automatically
by means of calibrated electric thermocouples .
There are decided changes which take place in the blood picture
of the treated patient and in his other reactions. Experiments on
animals have been made showing that the temperature returns to normal
quite rapidly as long as the animal has not been heated over 42
degrees Celsius.* Animals heated above that temperature
for a longer period of time have been killed. A decided loss of
weight takes place, ranging from about two to ten percent of the
body weight, according to the length and intensity of the treatment.
Also it makes a great difference whether the sweating and feverish
body is allowed to replenish its loss of water. There are also marked
changes in the different steps of metabolism and in the non-protein
nitrogen of the blood. According to Knudson and Schaible, this increased
in several instances up to 200 percent. Red blood cells and total
white cells are increased too, and, in addition, the microscopic
analysis of the blood shows a number of immature forms of red blood
Figures 3 and 5 show another improved form of machine
for localized fever treatment. This is the machine of Esau and Schliephake,
of Jena. The high-frequency oscillator is entirely built-in within
a metal cabinet connected to the ground, thus protecting the oscillating
circuit from any capacity influence of body parts near it. By using
these small electrodes instead of the large ones, it is possible
to produce fever in a limited area of the body and to avoid the
dangerous and exhausting effects of a general fever even with physical
The G. E. Co. has lately produced a fever machine
which was demonstrated at the last convention of the New York Electrical
Society, at the Engineering Auditorium. The plates of this machine
are about twice as large as those of Schliephake, giving a somewhat
less localized action.
With this machine Dr. C. F. Tenney,
Jr., attending physician of the Fifth Avenue Hospital, treated 580
cases of rheumatism since last April, with results which were so
encouraging that several patients who had come on crutches were
able to discard them after a number of treatments. Whether this
fever machine will give a permanent cure in severe cases of arthritis
is still too early to determine. But certainly the cures already
effected are almost as miraculous as the "wonder cures of the saints."
The wonders of the twentieth century are thus seen coming from the
At the short-wave experiments performed in Vienna, the physicians
and other people having to do with the machines during their operation
wear metal-coated laboratory coats and caps. Metal-weave ribbons
were sewed upon the outside of these garments, as electromagnetic
frequencies of this range do not penetrate such shieldings.
Figure 5 shows an interesting experiment made by Dr. Esau. Between
the plates of the high-frequency generator a number of cells are
placed which resemble, in a rough way, parts of animal tissues.
These cells are filled with a fluid of similar electric characteristics
as the cell content of body tissues. The temperature is controlled
automatically in different parts of the fluid by thermo-elements
inserted in the cells. Thus data can be read directly on the meter
on top of the instrument, with reference to the heating effect of
different frequencies under various conditions.
mathematical determination of the heating of a body of primarily
dielectric properties it has been found that it depends primarily
from the composition of the electrolyte, from its concentration,
from its size and form and from the wavelength."
to the classical field theory of James Clerk Maxwell, the characteristic
wavelength of a body is determined by
Hereby λ the wavelength, ε the dielectric constant
and x the conductivity of the substance. Taking the reciprocal value
of equation (1), we derive the following expression:
In introducing in this equation (2) specific data, Paetzold†
gave the following formula as an expression for the wavelength under
which a body might expect its strongest heating effect:
where f = the frequency (reciprocal to the wavelength)
g = the conductivity of the substance (the same as x) l
= the length of the body q = the cross-section of the body
a = reciprocal expression of the various equivalent capacitances
involved in the arrangement k = the dielectric constant of the
body (the same as ε)
This means that the characteristic
frequency for a substance has to be high if the dielectric properties
of the substance are small. The frequency will be lower if the substance
has a minor electrical conductivity.
How the Human Body Reacts Figure 4.
Diagram showing the changes in pulse rate, blood pressure,
body temperature and respiration of a woman patient, age
53, who took the radio fever treatment
There are many other biological applications possible and it may
be expected that the radio sciences will open up a much wider field
in influencing biological tissues than thought of today. For instance,
an experiment has been made in Italy, where caterpillars of the
silkworm were exposed to ultra-high-frequency fields. All of these
silkworms hatched sooner and gave more silk than the untreated ones.
However, this treatment is still too expensive today for practical
One of the interesting experiments which have been
made with this ultra-short-wave generator was to place flies in
a glass body contained in ice. Ordinarily these flies died after
a very short period of time. If, however, subjected to the influence
of the radio-thermic oscillations, the flies continued to live in
between the ice blocks. At a later date rooms might be heated with
a radio-thermical process, using no caloric heat production but
having the temperature raised in the body as induced by its dielectric
properties in the field of high-frequency oscillations. At both
ends of a room wires or metal plates might be built in in the walls,
filling the space between them with high-frequency energy and thus
heating up the persons in the room between the plates.
application of radio transmitting apparatus for the science of medicine
promises to be a valuable tool in fighting disease. The application
of radio waves, beginning with ultra-short waves with quasi-optical
characteristics, up to normal short waves of about 30 meters wavelength,
has opened unusual possibilities for the physician and new hopes
for the sick.
Arthur Knudson and Philip Schaible, Archives of Pathology, Volume
II, pp. 728 to 743, 1931.
** J. Kowarschik: Electrical Short
Waves and Their Importance in Medicine, Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift,
Volume 30, pp. 957-962, July,
† J. Paetzold: The Temperature Increase
of Electrolytes in a High-frequency Condenser Field and Its Importance
for Medicine. Zeitschrift fuer Hochfrequenztechnik,
Volume 36, September, 1930, p. 85.