My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: General Electric Research Team develops Portable Microwave Calorie Counter

Friday, July 11, 2014

General Electric Research Team develops Portable Microwave Calorie Counter

GE (General Electric) has done it again, to the delight of Microwave Chefs and Food Chemistry Students everywhere! When this gadget comes out, I’m betting that every Chemistry Lab across the world will want GE’s Device.

Their latest gadget? A Microwave that counts calories, which I’ve christened the GE Portable Microwave Calorie Counter as explained in “Calorie-counting microwave on the horizon?”, published  July 4, 2014 7:56 AM PDT  by Michael Franco, CNET News and “Calorie-counting microwaves might soon be in our kitchens thanks to GE”, published July 7, 2014 By Drew Prindle, DigitalTrends.

GE’s in the process of developing yet another ode to home automation similar to their Link Lights as described in my blog article entitled “General Electric debuts US$15 LED Link Lights controllable via Wink App - Home Automation with Wi-Fi and Li-Fi Hotspots” , but more on the Food side of things.

This is a unique device, which, it if makes it to the shelf as an actual product, will have many fitness buffs spending big bucks to purchase so as to maintain their health regiment. Developed by a Research Team led by GE Senior Scientist Matt Webster, it seems to have been a case of an unsatisfied wife challenging her husband to be a little more creative in his choice of birthday gifts as stated in “Universal Calorie Counter Within Reach? These Researchers are Cracking the Code”, published June 30, 2014, GE Reports

No surprise here; Women and their demands of men are partly the basis why so many household appliances even exist. So too for hard core scientific achievement, with the example of Charles Babbage and the idea of using programmable Punch Cards with his Differential Engine that was a suggestion of his paramour Lady Ada Lovelace, an admirer of his work.

Most of these fitness Trackers, such as the once-infamous Nike FuelBand as described in my Geezam blog article entitled “Caribbean rides the Fitness Craze as Nike Fuelband SE making Apple iPhone users healthier”.

So how does this contraption solve the problem of calculating Calories in Food before it enters your stomach?

GE Portable Microwave Calorie Counter - Counting Calories one Water and Fat Molecule at a time

The method used by the GE Portable Microwave Calorie Counter as I like to call it, is similar to IR Spectroscopy based handheld scanner designed by Consumer Physics, the US$199 SCiO as described in my blog article entitledConsumer Physics US$199 SCiO Portable IR Spectrometer – Star Trek Tricorder that can scan the Molecular World”.

However, that device only solves half of the problem of calculating the calorific content of Food. You need to have the weight of the Food, a technique used by other caloric counters. Obviously, their drawback is that they don’t know the chemical composition of the Food, which forces you to have to hazard a guess and input that data.

Inaccuracies will result, as there’s no guarantee that you know the correct weight or the composition of the Food based on its name. Thus GE’s solution is a combination of BOTH devices; a Food scale with a means to determine the chemical composition of the Food it’s measuring.

But instead of using IR Spectroscopy, they use Microwave Spectroscopy. Microwaves, to a former Telecoms Technician with work experience as laid out in my Engineering Resume and Diploma and Degree qualifications, is the Spectrum starts just above the Radio Wave Spectrum at 1 GHz in Frequency or 0.3m Wavelength, which is just below the IR Spectrum.

At those frequencies, the Covalent Bonds in water molecules as well as the Hydrogen Bonds between Water Molecules and Lipids or Fats in Food vibrate when exposed to Microwave Radiation.

Enter the GE Portable Microwave Calorie Counter!

What the GE Team led by GE Senior Scientist Matt Webster has done is to basically place a Detector inside of the Microwave along with the Klystron or Magnetron used to generate the Microwaves that are used for cooking Food. Then they measure the backscatter (reflected) and transmitted Microwaves that passed through the Food using a Detector.

Those Backscatter and transmitted Microwaves are compared against the original Microwaves in terms of intensity and frequency. As should be expected, the Water Molecules absorb the Microwaves and are thus elevated from a Ground State to an Excited State.

This causes the Covalent bonds within the Water Molecules and the weak Hydrogen Bonds between the Water Molecules and the Fat molecules to vibrate in several different modalities:

1.      Longitudinal Vibration stretching along the long axis of the Covalent Bonds of the Water Molecule
2.      Axial Vibration between the pivot around the Oxygen atom in the Covalent Bonds of the Water Molecule
3.      Rotational Vibrations both around the various atomic centers of the Water molecule
4.      Rotational Vibrations along the long axis of the Covalent Bonds of the Water Molecule

Microwave Vibrations – Covalent and Hydrogen Bonds Excited vs Ground State Vibrational Energy

In vibrating, these Covalent and Hydrogen Bonds give off Microwaves when the excited Water Molecules and Fat Molecules fall from their Excited State back to their Ground State. It is this Backscatter Microwave Radiation along with the Transmitted Microwave Radiation that is measured by the Detector.

The source Microwave Radiation is squelched out using either Filters or via DSP (Digital Signal Processors) and the remaining Backscatter Microwave Radiation along with the Transmitted Microwave Radiation Frequency and intensity is measured by electronics connected to the Detector.

The Vibration Microwave Radiation Intensity and Frequency for Water and Fat molecules can thus be extrapolated and used to determine the composition of the Food. Combined with the weight of the food determine by the GE Portable Microwave Calorie Counter built in scale as well as known calorific values of foods identified via this Microwave Spectroscopic method, the values are then used in a special equation to calculate the Calorific Value of the Food.


Clearly not all Food are just pure Water and Fats. Other molecules of Proteins, Sugars and Carbohydrates constitute this wonderful thing we call Food. Thus the spectrum of the Backscatter Microwave Radiation along with the Transmitted Microwave Radiation Frequency is further broken down and analyzed to detect the Vibrational Energies of other Molecular Bonds and from that data, special Equations are used to calculate the calorific values of these additional components of the Food as well.

This is basic Microwave Spectroscopy being used in a very practical way to determine the Calorific Values of Food. With an accuracy of 5% to 10%, this is a fairly accurate means of determining the Calorific Values of the Foods we eat before we eat them.

Best of all, this gadget would be a great addition to any Chemistry Department, as no doubt GE Senior Scientist Matt Webster would have realized. The alternative that exists in the Chemistry Lab is using a Calorific Bomb to determine the Caloric Values of Foods. This device literally combusts Food in a evacuate chamber that pressurized with only oxygen, basically oxidizing and thus destroying the Food in the process.

With this new and improved method, it allows you to enjoy your meal after knowing how many Calories you’re packing on. 
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