Free radical mechanism for the effects of environmental electromagnetic fields on biological systems

Int J Radiat Biol. 1996 Jan;69(1):3-24. doi: 10.1080/095530096146147.


The radical pair mechanism is discussed as a possible route whereby a magnetic field of environmental strength might affect a biological system. It is well established as the origin of reproducible field effects in chemistry, and these can be observed even at very low magnetic field strengths, including that of the geomagnetic field. Here it is attempted to give a description which might assist experimentalists working in biological laboratories to devize tests of its relevance to their work. The mechanism is well understood and a specific theoretical approach is taken to explore and emphasize the importance of the lifetime of the radical pair and the precise chemical natures of the radicals which comprise it in affecting the size of the low-field effects. Further subsequent processes are likely necessary to cause this primary effect to attain biological significance. Arguments are provided to suggest that the encounters of freely diffusing pairs (F-pairs) of radicals are unlikely to produce significant effects in biology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*


  • Free Radicals