how long would you have to microwave a person before they'd die?
November 9, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Suppose you had a microwave oven large enough to fit a person into it. How long would you have to microwave someone before they'd die?

Just curious, not planning on eating anyone.
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
how many watts is your hypothetical microwave?
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:21 PM on November 9, 2008

Putting a baby in a microwave will get them third degree burns in 10-20 seconds. This article says that “there is not a lot of scientific research and data on the effect of microwaves on human beings.” Snopes has slightly more but no specifics and this is what the Straight Dope has to say.
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on November 9, 2008

Wattage matters, but the average microwave oven's wattage seems to hover around 1000 watts. That's probably a good baseline to use when calculating this.
posted by truex at 2:04 PM on November 9, 2008


1500 W microwave equates to 5118 BTU/Hr.

Mass of unfortunate human (UH) = 150 pounds.

(For the sake of argument, UH is assumed to be mostly water.)

Init Temperature of UH = 99 F.

Point at which normal fever will kill you = 115 degrees (wild ass guess!)

16 degrees F x 150 pounds = 2400 BTU.

2400 BTU /5118 BTU/Hr= .46 hours. = 30 minutes, more or less.

Adjust for whatever temp you think will kill you.
posted by FauxScot at 2:09 PM on November 9, 2008

When I worked on a cell tower inventory project, they were very insistent that we should not pause in front of any of the microwave receivers/antennas while wandering around and marking down equipment. They claimed it caused burns relatively quickly. Whether this is true, I don't know, some things seem to back it up, such as:

The radiation in an operational system is similar to that of a MICROWAVE OVEN!
Avoid the main lobe when servicing your tower" (here)


"Medium sized microwave ovens are rated around 700W while the focussed power of a typical base-station main beam is likely to be at least 3,000W EIRP. from each antenna." (here)

So, if this is true (take with a grain of salt, of course), if I were an evil mastermind, I would tie up my chosen victim in front of a microwave antenna one of the roofs with all the antennas for various tv, radio, and phone companies. Hardly anyone goes up there, except for maintenance. Voila.
posted by HopperFan at 2:52 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

"on one of the roofs"
posted by HopperFan at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2008

FauxScot: "Guess?
2400 BTU /5118 BTU/Hr= .46 hours. = 30 minutes, more or less.

Adjust for whatever temp you think will kill you.

Nice speculation! :)
Disclaimer: I've never microwaved a person before, but...
Microwaves have relatively low penetration (a couple of centimeters) (that's why you shouldn't try to thaw big hunks of meat in the microwave oven). That means all the energy would apply to the skin and the subcutaneous tissue close to the surface (the eyes would probably be among he worst affected areas) and not raise the core temperature significantly. I'd imagine the effects of the thermal denaturalization of the proteins would be so severe that death would be by shock rather than hyperthermia; it would probably also create blood clots, resulting in thrombosis.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2008

FauxScot's got the proximate cause of death incorrect.

Microwaves are very spotty in their heating. Which is why when you microwave last nights lasanga or (another solid) some parts are hot and others are cold. It basically causes the water in your body to boil, in a few spots. So basically, if the positioning of the body relative to the scattered microwaves happens to fall on some important point (the heart, or a large artery or something), it will cause this tissue to burn. So I'd bet it's a lot shorter -- like 5-10 minutes. It also seems like it would be an excruciating way to die. Like being burned at the stake. From the inside.
posted by zpousman at 2:54 PM on November 9, 2008

Mod note: few comments removed - please keep comments on topic or send nonsense and speculation and derails to metatalk or memail, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:41 PM on November 9, 2008

I found this article to be quite interesting. The researcher discusses actual microwave experiments on living people and animals, without apparent damage.
posted by dereisbaer at 5:09 PM on November 9, 2008

Hey! I said it was a guess!

However, I once designed (and still have) a two-channel x 150w/channel 27 MHz RF diathermy machine. Funny little machine, it is. One of the problems with such heating systems is inadvertent 'cooking' of the treatment areas. A thumbnail sketch with some quantitative basis is all I was suggesting. It wasn't intended to be a serious analysis.

Having been irradiated with microwaves once, I got a rather instant headache, so I have always thought it would be a bad way to go.

No offense, OP, but ick, what a question!
posted by FauxScot at 5:16 PM on November 9, 2008

Believe it or not, this has kind of come up before.
posted by gwint at 8:02 PM on November 9, 2008

Once upon a time for what were perfectly good reasons at the time, I was aware of the various methods of killing lab animals with microwaves. At that time, five or six years ago, for instant death they were not recommending anything larger than your basic rat. The uneven heating issue was the primary reason.

FWIW, with lab animals, you want them to be dead before they have reactions that change their blood chemistry and you want to avoid introducing chemicals. So in theory having them loose and doing their lab animal thing in a free area like a microwave "special unit"... well, you can see how a certain creativity was involved in coming up with that one. And of course everyone I talked to had considered how the work might be used by states with a death penalty. You could see what the AVMA is up to, microwave-wise, these days.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:45 PM on November 9, 2008

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