In radiation 'ventriloquism,' electromagnetic waves travel backwards

September 23, 2008 By Lisa Zyga, feature

This figure shows back power flow lines at 21 GHz. Credit: Cesar Monzon.
( -- Typically, electromagnetic waves travel away from their sources. For instance, a radar system emits radio waves that travel all the way to a target, such as a car or plane, before being reflected back to the source. Police officers and the military rely on the forward movement of the waves to determine the speed or location of an object.

So if electromagnetic radiation started flowing in reverse, back toward its source, it could cause serious confusion. But this is just what Cesar Monzon, a Senior Scientist at Enig Associates, Inc., in Silver Spring, Maryland, has discovered. In a recent study, he theoretically demonstrates that, under special conditions of geometry, location, and frequency, power may flow backwards in the direction of its source. The study is published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

“I have been working in diverse aspects of electromagnetics for a number of years, and I just happened to stumble on some solutions of Maxwell’s equations that exhibited a very unusual behavior,” Monzon told “It is counterintuitive because we observe that, in some portions of space, the power is actually flowing back in the direction of the sources. On the other hand, based on experience, and with very rare exceptions (that involve wave guidance in exotic circumstances), the radiated power always spreads out as it travels away from the sources. For example, thermal radiation travels in straight lines away from a heat source.”

In Monzon’s theoretical set-up, a number of identical electromagnetic wave sources are aligned in a row. When they radiate power at a certain frequency, an unusual power flow pattern develops at a distance of about half a wavelength away from the sources. At this location, the power turns and flows back toward the source array, accompanied by a vortex formation.

As Monzon explains, the backwards power flow is caused by interference from the multiple sources. The waves superpose in such a way that the phase gradient of the waves points backwards in certain regions. Mathematically speaking, the electrical terms must overcome a geometric term. Monzon likens this condition to that of a mechanical object whose kinetic energy must overcome the potential energy of a barrier in order to overcome the barrier – like a ball with momentum rolling up a hill.

As Monzon notes, the backward power flow is being carried by an ordinary wave, in which the phase velocity, group velocity, and power all point in the same direction. Until now, power flowing toward its source has only been demonstrated for “backward” waves, where some of these characteristics are reversed.

But the fact that ordinary waves are flowing backwards here results in some unusual effects. If an observer were to detect the backward-moving waves, it would seem as if the waves were originating from a “ghost” source in the opposite direction from the true source. Monzon shows that it’s possible to control the placement of the backwards power flow, and harness the effect for various applications, including deception.

“On the case of deception, it appears possible that with current technology we can build a radiator (such as a radar) that can convince an observer, through measurements, that radiation is coming from a given direction, when in reality we are somewhere else, and perhaps even observing them,” he said. “The effect is real, not an illusion. The resulting effect on the observer is, however, akin to the illusion offered by a ventriloquist who manipulates his or her voice so that it appears that the voice is coming from elsewhere.”

Monzon added that the phenomenon could also be applied to other areas, such as optics, acoustics, and water wave problems.

“On the case of satellite antenna feeds, the theory indicates it may be possible to build these behind the main reflector dish, which will offer a clear field of view without blocking or the disadvantages derived from feed offsetting,” he explained. “The same principle applies to both transmit and receive antennas.”

More information: Monzon, Cesar. “Anomalous Power Flow and ‘Ghost’ Sources.” Physical Review Letters 101, 083901 (2008).

Copyright 2008
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of

Explore further: Lens with 'Super Resolution' Could Improve Medical Imaging Applications

Related Stories

Recommended for you

ATLAS experiment observes light scattering off light

March 20, 2019

Light-by-light scattering is a very rare phenomenon in which two photons interact, producing another pair of photons. This process was among the earliest predictions of quantum electrodynamics (QED), the quantum theory of ...

How heavy elements come about in the universe

March 19, 2019

Heavy elements are produced during stellar explosion or on the surfaces of neutron stars through the capture of hydrogen nuclei (protons). This occurs at extremely high temperatures, but at relatively low energies. An international ...

Trembling aspen leaves could save future Mars rovers

March 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been inspired by the unique movement of trembling aspen leaves, to devise an energy harvesting mechanism that could power weather sensors in hostile environments and could even ...

Quantum sensing method measures minuscule magnetic fields

March 15, 2019

A new way of measuring atomic-scale magnetic fields with great precision, not only up and down but sideways as well, has been developed by researchers at MIT. The new tool could be useful in applications as diverse as mapping ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.8 / 5 (8) Sep 23, 2008
Forget particles, long live waves.
4 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2008
In reality any metal object in the path of the wave will interfere with this making it very challenging to model where exactly vortexes form and how they look. That makes it rather impractical in any macro-environment.

Still interesting though, but I am not so sure its a new discovery as the setup is very basic.
4 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2008
Half-wavelength at radar frequencies is inches, doesn't seem too likely for spoofing someone as to your location when it's only inches away from your actual location.
4 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2008
Of course not, but if you look at the picture, the sources are also spaced about a half wavelength from each other. If this worked at other distances away from the source, the pseudo source would appear every half wavelength, getting weaker as it gets farther from the sources.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2008
4 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2008
Seems like plain old "Standing Waves" to me....

Power is reflected back to the source by way of improperly matched lines, and I suppose some cavity effects at higher frequencies.

Nothing new there....

Just IMHO....
not rated yet Sep 24, 2008
Mmmmm... did someone say u2013Field?? Ahhh yeah.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2008
The small photo in the main page looks sort of like tits with those pasties some women use to hide the part that feeds young nice now!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.