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I’ve been reading how microwave ovens cook food by spinning water molecules and was wondering if water is the only molecule that can be spun using microwaves, possibly by raising or lowering the frequency? Could microwaves even spin single atoms (like hydrogen or carbon)?

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Don't get caught up in the physical meaning of "spinning" here. The simple explanation is that the frequency of a microwave oven is chosen so that it matches the resonant frequency of one of the water molecule's vibrational modes.

So, for a different molecule or material, if you know the vibrational modes, you can select a microwave frequency to match and thus transfer energy into the material. Of course, some molecules or atoms may respond to much higher or lower frequencies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Water's vibrational modes have frequencies in the infrared, not microwaves. And, if you actually use a microwave oven to cook, you find that it heats plenty of dry things. High powered microwave transmitters heat things, and the effect is insensitive to frequency. Mostly, it's the bulk resistivity of the material that matters. The whole "tuned to water" thing is a myth. $\endgroup$
    – John Doty
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDoty yeah I don't think so. And I wouldn't call a home microwave oven "high power" by any means. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 15:30

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