I'm not sure I understand this well, so please bear with me. I've read a few answers on here about electric fields from neutral atoms, but they aren't agreeing on it. In any case, these are the questions I have:

  1. When EM waves and for example microwaves interact with neutral atoms, do they interact with the protons and electrons inside?
  2. If 1 is true, can atoms be heated up by the vibration due to the EM field interacting with the protons and electrons?
  3. If 2 is true, why aren't nonpolar molecules or neutral atoms heated up by a typical household microwave.

Thanks in advance.


1 Answer 1


In short:

  1. Yes, EM waves interact with neutral atoms through their constituent particles.
  2. Yes, this interaction tends to deliver energy and thus heat them up.
  3. Nonpolar molecules and neutral atoms do get heated up, it's just less efficient than the heat transferred to the water content.
  • $\begingroup$ By less efficient you mean the subatomic particles heating up is negligible compared to polar molecules? $\endgroup$
    – tent
    Jun 26, 2017 at 16:27

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