Answer to Question #12905 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Instrumentation and Measurements

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


Do nano-sized microchips give off radiation? If they do what would detect it?


I am assuming that your reference to microchips is in relation to so-called radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that are sometimes implanted beneath the skin of animals or people for purposes of identification and sometimes for allowing access to various locations, facilities, equipment, operations, and other possible restricted access items/areas. These chips, as you infer, are also presently being made in very small dimensions, meeting nano-size criteria (<100 nanometers). The simple answer to your questions is, "Yes, these chips do emit radiation." However, the radiation is of extremely low intensity, is emitted over a very short duration when the chip is brought close to the reader device, and is very low in energy, not in the ionizing radiation category—more in the category of radio waves, hence the notation RFID.

These chips typically have no independent power supply. Rather, they get their power from being exposed to an electromagnetic field provided by the reader device present at the check/access point. The small amount of circuit-induced current produced in the chip is sufficient to allow it to emit a radio-frequency signal carrying the necessary information to provide identification confirmation or to gain access to the target/item/area.

While one could build a receiver that would likely include a small receiving antenna, rectifying diode, and possible amplification circuitry that could detect and provide a measurement of this very weak and transient radio-frequency signal, I am not aware of any commercial handheld monitoring devices available that could make any meaningful interpretation of such a signal. Both the intensities and the frequencies of the signals from the typical microchip devices, nano-sized or not, are such that there appear to be no negative health implications associated with their use.

I hope this satisfies your needs.

George Chabot, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 26 April 2019. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.