As in hardly any other field of knowledge, research into the possible effects of electromagnetic fields on humans and the environment is characterized by an overlap of biological medicine, physics, engineering and social science. Correspondingly high is the variety of specialist areas covered and correspondingly low the number of experts in the position to view and assess all (or significant parts of) this field of research as “generalists”. Many experts from individual fields of knowledge are deployed in experts committees who assess – out of a sense of social or political responsibility – the possible risks of a piece of technology on the basis of the available research results and establish (partly applicable) recommendations regarding national and international setting of safety limits in connection with the same.
The different fields in which research is carried out, are divided roughly into the following areas
- Biological research
- Epidemiology (population studies)
- Dosimetry (measurement or assessment of the radiation dose in humans and animals) and
- Technology (this includes mainly radio technology and emission / immission measurements).
In addition, with biological objects examined in the laboratory it is possible to distinguish the levels of molecules (subcellular scale), cells and tissues, animals, and human beings. In the conduction of serious and reliable laboratory research into the potential effects of electromagnetic fields, people usually work with generic signals that are as closely defined as possible which simulate everyday exposure; these signals are applied in a controlled manner on the biological objects. The measured biophysical, physiological, psychological or behavioural effects (if valid) overall indicate references to possible risks that can develop with the use of the corresponding technologies in everyday life. They also feature references to the tolerable exposure threshold values ("safety limits"), beneath which the applications in question are classified as safe. Within the scope of such research, (ideally mixed) teams of scientists with biomedical and engineering backgrounds work together with statisticians in the treatment of the scientific problems.
National or international research programs, often (partially) financed by state authorities are conducted with specific or with as many partial aspects of EMF research as possible, participated in by numerous research institutions and research groups. The programs often benefit from standardized study and exposure design, amongst other things.