Frank Barnes: Fifty Years and Counting

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Professor Frank Barnes has done influential work on the biological effects of exposure to the electric and magnetic fields from power lines.

Sitting down with Frank Barnes is an education—not only in electro-magnetics, energy, and other areas of engineering, but also in history.

Celebrating his 50th anniversary of continuous teaching on the CU-Boulder faculty last fall, Barnes has been a driver in numerous initiatives that have shaped the university, including the formation of engineering programs at the Denver and Colorado Springs campuses, the launch of the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program at CU-Boulder, and the establishment of the Colorado Advanced Technology Institute, which supported science and technology programs at several state schools during the 1980s and ‘90s.

He shares these and other memories through a series of stories that reflect the success—and the fun—he has had throughout his career.

“We started out working on masers and lasers,” he recalls. “We built some in the early 1960s. I had a student, Ken Lang, who was interested in brain waves, and we performed the first single-cell surgery on a rabbit embryo. It was published in Nature (in 1964) and we had 500 requests for reprints.”

From there, his interest in bioelectromagnetics, the use of electromagnetic fields to probe biological function and develop diagnostics and therapeutic instruments, was born. At 77 years old, he is both a CU distinguished professor and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and he has done influential work on the biological effects of exposure to the electric and magnetic fields from power lines, including participating in a study showing a correlation between the location of residences and the incidence of childhood leukemia.

Fifty years of experience says he’s probably right.

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