Abraham Liboff (1927–2023)

Abe Liboff in his office at Oakland University.

Oakland University physicist Abe Liboff died recently. A notice from President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, published on the OU website, stated:

It is with deep sadness that I inform you of the death of Professor Emeritus Abraham Liboff who passed away on January 9, 2023. Dr. Liboff joined the Oakland University community in the Department of Physics on August 15, 1972, where he served until his retirement in August 2000.

During his tenure here at OU, Dr. Liboff was Chair of the Department of Physics. He is credited with 111 research publications, more than two dozen patents and nearly 3,400 scholarly citations during his career.

I arrived at OU in 1998, so his time at OU and mine overlapped by a couple years. I remember having a delightful breakfast with him during my job interview. He was one of the founders of OU’s medical physics PhD program that I directed for 15 years. His office was just a few doors down the hall from mine and he helped me get started at Oakland. I’ll miss him.

Although I loved the man, I didn’t love Abe’s cyclotron resonance theory of how magnetic fields interact with biological tissue. It’s difficult to reconcile admiration for a scientist with rejection of his scientific contributions. Rather than trying to explain Abe’s theory, I’ll quote the abstract from his article “ Geomagnetic Cyclotron Resonance in Living Cells,” published in the Journal of Biological Physics (Volume 13, Pages 99–102, 1985).

Although considerable experimental evidence now exists to indicate that low-frequency magnetic fields influence living cells, the mode of coupling remains a mystery. We propose a radical new model for electromagnetic interactions with cells, one resulting from a cyclotron resonance mechanism attached to ions moving through transmembrane channels. It is shown that the cyclotron resonance condition on such ions readily leads to a predicted ELF-coupling at geomagnetic levels. This model quantitatively explains the results reported by Blackman et al. (1984), identifying the focus of magnetic interaction in these experiments as K+charge carriers. The cyclotron resonance concept is consistent with recent indications showing that many membrane channels have helical configurations. This model is quite testable, can probably be applied to other circulating charge components within the cell and, most important, leads to the feasibility of direct resonant electromagnetic energy transfer to selected compartments of the cell.

In my book Are Electromagnetic Fields Making Me Ill? I didn’t have the heart to attack Abe in print. When discussing cyclotron resonance effects, I cited the work of Carl Blackman instead, who proposed a similar theory. What’s the problem with this idea? If you calculate the cyclotron frequency of a calcium ion in the earth’s magnetic field, you get about 23 Hz (see Eq. 8.5 in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology). However, the thermal speed of a calcium ion at body temperature is about 440 m/s (Eq. 4.12 in IPMB). At that speed, the radius of the cyclotron orbit would be 3 meters (roughly ten feet)! The mean free path of a ion in water, however, is about an angstrom, which means the ion will suffer more than a billion collisions in one orbit; these interactions should swamp any cyclotron motion. Moreover, ion channels have a size of about 100 angstroms. In order to have a orbital radius similar to the size of a ion channel, the calcium ion would need to be moving extremely fast, which means it would have a kinetic energy vastly larger than the thermal energy. The theory just doesn’t work.

Since Liboff isn’t around to defend himself, I’ll let Louis Slesin-the editor and publisher of Microwave News-tell Abe’s side of the story. Read Slesin’s Reminiscence on the Occasion of Abe Liboff’s 90th Birthday. Although I don’t agree with Slesin on much, we both concur that Abe was a “wonderful and generous man.” If you want to hear about cyclotron resonance straight from the horse’s mouth, you can hear Abe talk about his career and work in a series of videos posted on the Seqex YouTube channel. (Seqex is a company that sells products based on Abe’s theories.) Below I link to the most interesting of these videos, in which Abe tells how he conceived of his cyclotron resonance idea.

Originally published at http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com.



Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

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Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.