|Harold Burr, in 1937, set out to address four fundamental questions about the
electromagnetics of living systems:
Do living organisms possess steady state (i.e., direct current)
Can these voltage levels be assessed in a manner
that is free from the usual ambiguities of electrical measurement such as random
variations in the electrical resistance and flow in the specimen being measured?
Are voltage level fluctuations random or are they
related in such a way as to produce definable electrodynamic fields?
If such fields are present, are they merely
by-products of biochemical processes, or do they exert an influence on those biochemical
processes and on the patterns of organization found in living entities?1
To put into perspective the
challenges Burr confronted, it is first necessary to grasp the infinitesimal variations in
voltage levels (physicists refer to these as potential differences) that must be
measured to amply investigate the electromagnetic properties of living systems. A wall outlet in North America produces an electro-motive force
(voltage) of 110 volts. A flashlight battery produces 1.5 volts, or 1.36% of the voltage in the
The voltages Burr worked with were measured in microvolts. A microvolt is one one-millionth of a volt. If
you took the voltage of the flashlight battery and divided it into 1 million parts of
equal size, each one of those parts would be 1.5 microvolts. That is, 1 microvolt = 1 x 10-6
volts. In brief, you would need an instrument far more sophisticated than any voltmeter available from Radio
Shack to measure voltages this small.
So before Burr could even test his hypothesis that
life exhibits electromagnetic properties, he had to first overcome the technical
challenges of crafting an instrument sophisticated enough to do the job. In addition to
needing to measure extremely weak voltage fluctuations, another technical challenge was
for Burr to measure the voltages of his specimens with as little effect on them as
possible. A voltmeter measures a voltage by drawing a small amount of electrical current
from the sample being tested. As the current flows through the meter, it records the
corresponding voltage. While this is fine if the test sample is made of mechanical or
electronic components, it becomes highly problematic if the sample being studied is a
salamander egg. Burr had to measure voltages in the microvolt range without drawing any
appreciable current from the sample. If his measurement drew current from the salamander
egg, it could alter the very voltages he was trying to measure or even destroy the egg.
The only way to accomplish all of this was to
contrive a volt-meter that had extremely high electrical resistance. Whenever a connection
is made to a voltage source (whether it is a battery or a salamander egg), a current is going to flow from the voltage source through
the connection, and in this case, to the meter. The amount of current that flows is directly proportional to the voltage
level but inversely
proportional to the resistance of the connection. The greater the resistance of the connection, the smaller
the current flow.3
In Burr's apparatus, the greater the electrical
resistance of the meter, the less current flow the meter draws from the sample. Making the
resistance of the meter on the order of 100 megohms4 would mean that a current of one 100
millionths of an ampere would cause the meter to register one volt. Burrs meter drew
on the order of 1 x 10-12 ampere, or one-trillionth of an ampere from the
specimen being measured.
While this amount was small enough to not harm the
egg or distort the reading, it raised yet another challenge. Meters this sensitive are
notoriously unstable. The meter will tend to react to any voltage it senses at its input
terminal; not just the voltages that are meant to be measured. An extremely stable meter
was needed that would only respond to voltages that were intentionally measured.
|THE BURR-LANE VACUUM TUBE MICROVOLTMETER
At the time Burr was setting out to
make his measurements, the transistor hadnt yet been invented, but its predecessor,
the vacuum tube, was available. Transistors are solid state devices that can be used for amplification,
switching, voltage regulation, and countless other applications. Despite its larger size, the vacuum tube could perform the same
functions as the modern transistor.
Burr and his colleagues connected a pair of vacuum tubes in an
electrical circuit in such a way that any voltage presented to the input side of the tubes
would result in a resistance change on the output side of the tubes. This resistance
change was directly proportional to the measured voltage and was recorded on an analog
meter. Configuring the electronic circuit in this manner allowed for a highly stable
instrument (it would repeatedly give the same reading under the same conditions) with a measurement sensitivity of
10 microvolts/millimeter (for every ten microvolts presented to the input terminals, the
analog meter needle would deflect one millimeter).
To position the salamander eggs for the voltmeter reading, Burr
suspended them in a saline solution. But this introduced yet another problem. If two different materials are
brought into contact with each other, a very small voltage (several hundred microvolts)
develops at their junction due to the difference in their atomic structure, a property of
dissimilar materials known as galvanic action. Since Burrs voltmeter would
respond to a voltage difference of this magnitude, it would skew any measurements made on
the actual specimen. To
work around this complication, Burr and his colleagues crafted a custom set of measuring
electrodes that minimized the galvanic action between the probe and the saline.
To create such a probe, a silver/silver chloride electrode was formed
by chemically depositing silver nitrate and sodium hydroxide on a platinum wire. The
result was an electrode that exhibited less than 20 microvolts potential difference (voltage developed due to the
galvanic action) between the electrodes and the saline solution in which the specimen is
suspended. This galvanic voltage was easily compensated for in the calibration of the
|THE FABLED SALAMANDER EGG MEASUREMENTS
Once Burr had succeeded in creating
a viable apparatus for recording the microvolt voltage levels to test his hypotheses, he needed a suitable
specimen for taking the measurements. He chose the salamander because it is "easily obtained and can be
observed from the egg stage up to adult form; and the changes in the form as it grows and
develops can be observed and described with great accuracy."5
The first measurement Burr made was on an unfertilized salamander egg.
He noted that, indeed, there were several points of differing voltage around the equator
of the egg relative to the vegetal or south pole of the egg. In fact, there was one point
in particular that had a higher voltage than all of the others. Further, as he moved the
electrodes towards the egg he noted an increasing voltage at distances of up to ½ mm away
from the surface and increasing in voltage until the electrode made contact with the
eggs surface. This would seem to indicate that the source of the voltage was from
the egg itself; either inside the egg, or in the cell membrane.
However, he wanted to be absolutely sure that the voltage was coming
from the salamander egg and not from some artifact of the test set up. To do this, he set
the pipette containing the egg and the saline solution on a rotating disc whose rotational
rate was controlled by a motor. Holding the probes near the egg atop the spinning disc he
recorded a sinusoidal voltage waveform whose period was the same as the rotational rate of
the motorized disc. He then removed the salamander egg from the pipette and repeated the
measurement on a pipette containing only the saline solution and sitting atop the rotating
disc. The result: flatline no voltage recorded.
To further prove that it was the egg that was creating the voltage and
not any part of the apparatus, he crafted what he referred to as a "robot" that
was simply a tiny piece of copper wire dabbed with solder on each end. The dissimilarity
between the solder and the copper, he reasoned, would produce a voltage analogous to that
measured from the egg. He introduced his micro-robot into the saline-filled pipette and
repeated his measurement with the rotating disc. The result was a sine wave voltage of the
same frequency but with a slightly different voltage magnitude, as one would expect.
Removing the robot from the pipette and repeating the measurement once again yielded zero
Another very interesting discovery was made in comparing the voltage of
the robot with that of the egg. Over time, the voltage of the robot dropped to zero. This
would stand to reason when you consider that, once the galvanic action between the copper
and the solder has depleted the charge across the junctions of the dissimilar metals,
there is no longer a voltage difference. The egg on the other hand, exhibited a steadily increasing
voltage after it was fertilized and throughout the development of the embryo. This would
seem to imply that the process of developing life and an increasing electric field
proximal to the living organism are somehow intimately linked.
Returning to the voltage differences on the unfertilized egg, Burr
noted that there was one particular point on the equator of the egg that had a higher
voltage than all of the other measured points, and another point 180 degrees along the
equator that exhibited a minimum voltage. Using micro-surgical instruments he marked the
point of maximum voltage on the eggs surface with a dot of Nile blue sulphate and
then fertilized the egg. As the embryo developed, the location of the point of maximum
voltage never changed but proved to be coincident with the location of the
salamanders head. The lowest voltage location developed into the salamanders
tail. The amazing conclusion that Burr drew was that the maximum voltage location in the
unfertilized egg was a blueprint for the alignment of the fully-developed
salamanders nervous system! This measurement was repeated with a control group of
about 100 salamander eggs, all with the same result. Burr then repeated this experiment on
a control group of frogs eggs6 and on the extracted chick embryo;7 all with the same
results. The location of maximum voltage seemed to dictate the alignment of the grown
specimens nervous system (head and tail).
So, it appeared that Burr now had his evidence of an organizing field
that accompanied the normal growth of embryos. Now he could
explore the implications of his discovery.
|BIO-ELECTRIC PROPERTIES OF CANCER
Burr reasoned that, since normal
biologic growth and development was accompanied by a bio-electric field that appeared
antecedent to the beginning of development (i.e. before the salamander eggs and frog eggs
were fertilized), abnormal growth would likely be preceded by the appearance of an
abnormal bio-electric signature.
To test this new hypothesis, Burr and his colleagues "initiated a
series of studies designed to investigate the bio-electric properties of an organism
before, during, and after the onset of cancer." The animals chosen for this study
were from two different genetic strains of mice. As Burr explains: "Each strain has been inbred
for many generations so that the genetic constitution of each animal is as nearly like
that of others of the same strain as is possible. One strain was bred for relative
immunity to adenocarcinoma of the mammary gland [breast cancer]. The second strain has
been inbred so that approximately 90 per cent of the population of breeding females
acquire mammary cancer during their normal lives."8 Thirty-nine
mice from each strain were used in this experiment.
Briefly, starting at the age of 150 days and continuing until the end
of the mouses life, Burr made measurements on each of the mice every two weeks. At
the 150-day point, all of the mice used in the experiment were free of cancer. Using the
microvoltmeter described above, voltages were measured between
- the center of the lower part of the sternum (xiphoid) and the joining
point of the
two pubic bones (symphysis) for an axial voltage
- across the groins
- across the chest
- the xiphoid and each groin
- the xiphoid and each side of the chest
Thus, the body was roughly triangulated.9
For the cancer-susceptible mice in which cancer
appeared before the 260th day, the voltage across the chest of the mouse
increased by several thousand microvolts between ten days and two weeks in advance of the
malignant tumor being detected by palpation.
Based on these findings (drawn from more than 10,000 measurements),
Burr concluded the appearance of abnormal tissue in the organism was preceded by an
abnormal distribution of voltages in the affected area of the body relative to the voltage
distribution found in mice that exhibited no palpable cancer.
Burr made hundreds of other studies of the bio-electric field as it
relates to normal and abnormal processes in living organisms. These studies include, but
are by no means limited to
- voltage fluctuations antecedent to ovulation in rabbits, Rhesus Monkeys and humans
- bio-electric concomitants of growth and differentiation in the healing of wounds of
guinea-pigs and of humans
- the effect of drugs on the electrical potentials in rats
- correlation between the integrity of the peripheral somatic nervous system and voltage
differences measured on the surface of the arm or leg of a human
- detection of malignancy of the human female genital tract
Burr was able to demonstrate an
accurate, stable, and repeatable technique for measuring the microvolt levels of living
organisms. Using this technique he was able to verify his hypothesis of the existence of a
bio-electric field that appeared to accompany, or even precede an organisms
biochemistry and patterns of organization.
He then extrapolated his hypothesis of the organizing nature of the
bio-electric field to the development of cancer in mice. He demonstrated that malignancy
was accompanied by a bio-electric voltage that was aberrant relative to the voltage
exhibited in specimens known to be cancer-free.
Burrs pioneering work is frequently cited by scientists as well
as practitioners who are concerned with the role of energy and energy fields in healing, a
specialty that has come to be known as energy medicine.10 But
because Burrs original papers, from the 1930s and 40s, are not
readily available, many of his admirers are not fully aware of the rigorous technical
challenges he overcame or the absolute genius of his contributions. This paper has
attempted to provide a glimpse into both.
Special thanks to David Feinstein, Ph.D., for his
close collaboration in the conception and development of this paper, and Jeffrey K.
Harris, M.D., and Douglas J. Moore, Ph.D., for their helpful comments and suggestions. The
author also gratefully acknowledges Diane P. Burke, M.A., for her loving encouragement and
invaluable editorial guidance.
|REFERENCES AND NOTES 1 H.S. Burr, C.T. Lane, and L.F. Nims.
A Vacuum Tube Microvoltmeter for the Measurement of Bioelectric Phenomena. Yale Journal
of Biology & Medicine. 1936, Vol.10: 65 76
While the outlet produces AC or alternating current voltage and a battery produces
DC or direct current voltage, the comparisons here are of magnitudes only, to give an idea of the scales involved.
Think of a garden hose. Electrical
quantities of voltage, current, and resistance are analogous to pressure, water flow rate,
and resistance moving through the hose. The amount of pressure used to drive the water
through the hose is analogous to voltage; the rate at which water flows through the hose
is analogous to current; and the resistance of the nozzle to the water flow is analogous
to electrical resistance.
ohm is a measure of electrical resistance, the propensity of an electrical circuit to
resist, or impede, the flow of current. A simple electrical circuit carrying a current of
one ampere and being impressed with a voltage of one volt is said to have a resistance of
one ohm. A megohm is one-million ohms.
H.S. Burr, The Fields of Life (New York: Ballantine, 1972).
H.S. Burr, and C.I. Hovland. Bio-Electric Potential Gradients in the Chick. Yale
Journal of Biology & Medicine. 1937, Vol.9: 247 258
H.S. Burr, G.M. Smith, and L. C. Strong. Bio-electric Properties of Cancer-Resistant and
Cancer-Susceptible Mice. American Journal of Cancer. 1938, Vol. 32: 240 248
D. Feinstein, & D. Eden, Six Pillars of Energy Medicine: Clinical Strengths of a
Complementary Paradigm. Paper submitted for publication.