Smart Card? A Study of ElectroMagnetic Fields Produced by RFID Transmitters

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Author: Jeff K.



Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a ubiquitous form of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology that has been adapted by numerous industries to identify items, goods, and people. RFID systems operate through a transmitter, which constantly releases pulses of ElectroMagnetic energy. When a card is placed within range of the transmitter, the energy found in the ElectroMagnetic Field (EMF) powers the card, enabling the card to execute the requested command and send the result back to the transmitter. As RFID technology is becoming more integrated into our daily lives (office buildings, shipment tracking, theft prevention, passports, credit cards, transportation systems, etc.), it is even more important to understand the possible health risks from the EMF emitted by RFID transponders. This experiment tested the EMF to determine the overall safety of these devices. A TriField 100XE meter was placed adjacent to the transmitter to record the strength of the field before, during, and after RFID cards were scanned by various transmitters. At the conclusion of the experiment, 16 different transponders were tested in 6 different systems, and a total of 80 samples were collected.

Based upon various EMF studies, hazardous biological effects have been shown to begin occurring between 1.75 and 5 MilliGausses (MG); the average result of these studies is around 3 MG. Prior to scanning, no device exceeded the most extreme hazardous estimate of 1.75 MG (the average of the devices was 1.3408 MG). However, during and after the scan, every device exceeded the most conservative hazardous estimate of 5 MG (the average of the devices was 15.7792 MG). From this data, it can be determined that, while completely safe when not in use, the combination of the RFID transmitter and card can cause harmful biological effects (such as cancer and brain damage) from ElectroMagnetic radiation. Thus, if one wishes to minimize their exposure to EMFs (and thus, EMF radiation), they should focus on avoiding the alreadyubiquitous, yet somewhat unknown, RFID system.


Physical Science


11th Grade

Project Difficulty




Safety Issues

The only possible safety issue is the exposure to the ElectroMagneitc fields produced by the RFID transmitter (as shown by the US Department of Energy study of EMFs and the US Environmental Protection Agencyʼs report attempting to classify EMFs as Carcinogens). However, since exposure to this device is ubiquitous (and since the device can not be tested without exposing oneʼs self to the EMF) safety precautions were neither plausible nor possible.

Time Taken to Complete Project

Approximately four weeks were spent on research, ten weeks on experimentation, and four weeks on analysis, explanations, and presentations.


The purpose of the project was to measure the ElectroMagnetic Fields produced by RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) transmitters. Using this information, one could determine the safety risks (and properly understand the tradeoffs) of repeated RFID transmitter use.

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