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Name: Ali
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: N/A
Country: Iran
Date: Spring 2012

One of my students has asked which discipline (physics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, communications engineering, .....) is most involved in the design of microwave heating solutions. I have asked experts in all four fields and they all seemed puzzled and unaware of the answer. Who designs microwave heating equipment?

In modern science and engineering, the distinctions between academic disciplines are very blurred. There is a strong focus on inter-disciplinary studies because so many disciplines are needed to design everyday things. For example, a home microwave includes chemical engineers (who design the materials), mechanical engineers (who design structural parts made from the materials), electrical engineers (who design the circuitry), industrial engineers (who design the appearance and functionality), physicists (who invented the magnetron powering the microwave source).

I would say that many disciplines are necessary -- and as such, it is hard to judge one as the "most" important. A little like the old argument "which system in the body is most important?" -- when in reality, without the any of the nervous, circulatory, endocrine, skeletal, or other systems, we would die! Without all these fields working together, we would not have a microwave...

Hope this helps, Burr Zimmerman


Several disciplines will be involved, but the bulk of the design work lies within the field of electrical engineering, specifically an “EE” trained in microwave engineering. This specialty within electrical engineering focuses on high frequency electromagnetics—the generation of it, the transmission of it, and in this case, the absorption of it within materials. A microwave engineer (again, a specialty of EE), will often work in RADAR and microwave communications (satellite communication) as well as microwave heating. Other support fields can be included: a mechanical engineer to design any mechanical hardware needed; a power engineer (another EE) to design any support power needed for driving the microwave electronics, and a digital and/or analog design engineer (EE) to design the control electronics. Outside of simple commercial applications (a microwave oven, for example), other specialties can be involved. An Applied Physicist or a Material Scientist might get involved if there is a need for exotic interaction between microwaves and materials. In general, though, an EE trained in microwave engineering will be most involved.

Kyle Bunch

Hi Ali,

Microwave heating systems are conceptually fairly simple: Just a high power magnetron and a wave guide to conduct the high power microwave emissions being generated into the cavity containing the object being heated. Note that generally what the equipment is doing is heating the water contained in the object to be heated. A 2.45 GHz magnetron is generally used because this is a resonant frequency of the water molecule.

To design such heating equipment, some basic high power, high frequency electronic engineering experience is needed, as well as a skilled high voltage power supply designer. However, most of the effort requires the skills of an experienced mechanical designer to design the heating cavity and integrate the magnetron, its power supply, design the wave guide feed from the magnetron, and to design the sealing system that prevents microwave leakage. Your suggestion of a communications engineer as well as a physicist wouldn't be of much use to this project.

Regards, Bob Wilson

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