Radio frequency (RF) is the oscillation rate of an alternating electric current or voltage or of a magnetic, electric or electromagnetic field or mechanical system in the frequency range from around twenty thousand times per second (kHz) to around three hundred billion times per second ( 20 GHz). This is roughly between the upper limit of 300 audio frequencies and the lower limit of infrared frequencies; these are the frequencies at which energy from an oscillating current can radiate off a conductor into space as radio waves. Different sources specify different upper and lower bounds for the frequency range. While RF usually refers to electrical rather than mechanical oscillations, mechanical RF systems are not uncommon (see mechanical filter and RF MEMS).
- Energy from RF currents in conductors can radiate into space as electromagnetic waves (radio waves). This is the basis of radio technology.
- RF current does not penetrate deeply into electrical conductors but tends to flow along their surfaces; this is known as the skin effect.
- RF currents applied to the body often do not cause the painful sensation and muscular contraction of electric shock that lower frequency currents produce. This is because the current changes direction too quickly to trigger depolarization of nerve membranes. However this does not mean RF currents are harmless; they can cause internal injury as well as serious superficial burns called RF burns.
- RF current can easily ionize air, creating a conductive path through it. This property is exploited by "high frequency" units used in electric arc welding, which use currents at higher frequencies than power distribution uses.
- Another property is the ability to appear to flow through paths that contain insulating material, like the dielectric insulator of a capacitor. This is because capacitive reactance in a circuit decreases with frequency.
- In contrast, RF current can be blocked by a coil of wire, or even a single turn or bend in a wire. This is because the inductive reactance of a circuit increases with frequency.
- When conducted by an ordinary electric cable, RF current has a tendency to reflect from discontinuities in the cable such as connectors and travel back down the cable toward the source, causing a condition called standing waves. Therefore, RF current must be carried by specialized types of cable called transmission line, such as coaxial cables.
|ITU designation||IEEE bands|
|3–30 Hz||105–104 km||Extremely low frequency||ELF||N/A|
|30–300 Hz||104–103 km||Super low frequency||SLF||N/A|
|300–3000 Hz||103–100 km||Ultra low frequency||ULF||N/A|
|3–30 kHz||100–10 km||Very low frequency||VLF||N/A|
|30–300 kHz||10–1 km||Low frequency||LF||N/A|
|300 kHz – 3 MHz||1 km – 100 m||Medium frequency||MF||N/A|
|3–30 MHz||100–10 m||High frequency||HF||HF|
|30–300 MHz||10–1 m||Very high frequency||VHF||VHF|
|300 MHz – 3 GHz||1 m – 10 cm||Ultra high frequency||UHF||UHF, L, S|
|3–30 GHz||10–1 cm||Super high frequency||SHF||S, C, X, Ku, K, Ka|
|30–300 GHz||1 cm – 1 mm||Extremely high frequency||EHF||Ka, V, W, mm|
|300 GHz – 3 THz||1 mm – 0.1 mm||Tremendously high frequency||THF||N/A|
Frequencies of 1 GHz and above are conventionally called microwave, while frequencies of 30 GHz and above are designated millimeter wave. More detailed band designations are given by the standard IEEE letter- band frequency designations and the EU/NATO frequency designations.
Radio frequencies are generated and processed within very many functional units such as transmitters, receivers, computers, and televisions to name a few. Radio frequencies are also applied in carrier current systems including telephony and control circuits.
Radio frequency (RF) energy, in the form of radiating waves or electrical currents, has been used in medical treatments for over 75 years, generally for minimally invasive surgeries using radiofrequency ablation including the treatment of sleep apnea. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio frequency waves to generate images of the human body.
RF diathermy is a medical treatment that uses RF induced heat as a form of physical therapy and in surgical procedures. It is commonly used for muscle relaxation. It is also a method of heating tissue electromagnetically for therapeutic purposes in medicine. Diathermy is used in physical therapy to deliver moderate heat directly to pathologic lesions in the deeper tissues of the body. Surgically, the extreme heat that can be produced by diathermy may be used to destroy neoplasms, warts, and infected tissues, and to cauterize blood vessels to prevent excessive bleeding. The technique is particularly valuable in neurosurgery and surgery of the eye. Diathermy equipment typically operates in the short-wave radio frequency (range 1–100 MHz) or microwave energy (range 434–915 MHz).
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) is a medical treatment that purportedly helps to heal bone tissue reported in a recent NASA study. This method usually employs electromagnetic radiation of different frequencies - ranging from static magnetic fields, through extremely low frequencies (ELF) to higher radio frequencies (RF) administered in pulses.
Effects on the human body
Radio frequency current through tissue will generate heat in the tissue and can cause burns.
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Test apparatus for radio frequencies can include standard instruments at the lower end of the range, but at higher frequencies the test equipment becomes more specialized.
- Amplitude modulation ("AM")
- Electromagnetic Interference
- Electromagnetic radiation
- Electromagnetic spectrum
- EMF measurement
- Frequency allocation
- Frequency bandwidth
- Frequency modulation ("FM")
- Plastic welding
- Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy
- Spectrum management
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