Monday, January 23, 2012

The Current Debate Part I: Which EMF Detector to Purchase

See Parts II; III of "The Current Debate" under the July 2010 heading, Part IV under January 2011 heading

By Robin Strom-Mackey

“How a spirit gathers energy and manifests itself is certainly open for debate. I find a lot of amateur ghost hunters blithely explain that a spirit can manifest itself using any energy source available, and therefore any device to measure electricity will work just as well. . But paranormal purists disagree.”

There are several kinds of EMF detectors on the market, and the beginning paranormal investigator may just pick the one that looks the most impressive, or has the best price. When I purchased my first detector, I bought one that had flashing lights, figuring it would be the easiest to use in the dark. It wasn’t until I did an interview with a local ghost hunter with several decades worth of experience, Clinton "Doc" Vick, that I realized my purchase might have been hasty. I realized my possible mistake when Vick said in his usual, compassionate manner, “Why in the %$%% did you buy that piece of junk?" (Vick is a former sailor, so many of our conversations are peppered with these gentle nuances.)

To which I replied with an enlightening, “I don’t know, it has cool colored lights. What’s wrong with it?”

What’s wrong he went on to explain is that my K2 meter measures the wrong type of electricity, namely AC power. Why would you buy a gage, he reasoned, that measured AC power when the human body and the earth’s magnetic field use DC? Wouldn’t it be much more likely that an entity would use a natural electrical field? Wouldn't they access the same type of electromagnetic charge as they had when they had a body? You don’t die, after all, and suddenly become a lamp.

This theory did make sense. There was only one problem, I had no freakin clue what the difference was! I embarked, therefore, upon a quest to figure all this out. Little do we know, when we sign on to be ghost hunters, how many complicated, and seemingly unrelated, topics we’ll end up studying as well. Unfortunately, in the ghost hunting literature I found next to nothing on what should probably be a hot topic for discussion. Troy Taylor did mention the Tri-Field EMF detector as being the best device, in his estimation, but never explained why. Other authors simply listed many different types of devices with very little explanation as to why they might work, or which might work better. Other authors breezily theorized that a spirit, when it was trying to manifest or manipulate something in its environment would use any energy in the area, thereby sidestepping the question altogether. Cowards!

Most ghost hunters know that besides EMF detectors, other devices such as Geiger counters and barometric pressure meters have been used in ghost hunting. No one explained how they worked, or what they detected, or speculated as to why one might be more advantageous than another. This kind of indecision drives me a little crazy, so what I wanted to do is to find out about each of these natural elements and examine the instruments associated with measuring each of these phenomenon and report back. Learning how electricity works was, not surprisingly, a bigger job than I had anticipated, so this will be a work in several parts. As for this article, gear up to learn the very basics of electricity. I’ve come to think of it as electricity 101 – that’s short for what every 5th grader already knows, and we adults have forgotten.

How Electricity is Created

To understand electricity one needs to understand something of the way that atoms work. Atoms are made of three different substances, protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons (which have a positive electrical charge) and neutrons reside conspicuously near the center or nucleus of an atom. The tiny electrons, which are tiny, negatively charged particles circle widely around the atom. Atoms that are unstable have an odd number of electrons in their outermost shell. Electrons in an unstable atom can become disengaged easily from the atom to which they are attached, moving to another atom. Electricity is created by the flow of these electrons moving from one atom to another along a circuit of wire. Not all atoms have electrons that can be disengaged. What entices an electron to move from one atom to another? A magnet. Take a magnet, for example and move it near a paper clip, and you will have caused the electrons in that paperclip to have moved toward the magnet. To move electricity from the power plant to your bedroom lamp requires a magnetic push as well. Generators which are really big, spinning magnets are used to do the trick This relationship of electricity and magnetism is what is referred to as electromagnetism.

AC or Alternating Current

Alternating Current, the current with which we power buildings is used instead of Direct Current, because it is easier to send across miles of wire to your home. “It is called alternating current because it is produced when magnets spin in a coil of wire.” AC current is a flouncy thing, literally flowing back and forth in a wave like pattern as it flows down a wire. These loops of course occur quickly; 120 times, completing 60 cycles a second..

Alternating Current Chart

“In a power station, electricity can be made most easily and efficiently by using a motor to spin magnetic wire coils. The resultant voltage is always ‘alternating’ by virtue of the motor's rotation. The illustration indicates how the voltage goes first positive than negative [1].”

DC or Direct Current

Direct Current on the other hand is the type of current that powers a flashlight battery or a flash of lightning. It moves in only one direction. When electricity was first being utilized DC was king. However, it soon became apparent that DC had a flaw that AC did not. It quickly loses its strength the further away from the generator it travels. Today DC current is used in many low voltage appliances, namely those appliances that are powered by batteries. Solar power and the solar (battery) cells utilize DC as well. And DC is used in many automotive applications.

DC current is the naturally occurring electromagnetic field of the earth. The atmosphere of the globe produces an atmospheric electrical circuit. The outer most layer has a slightly positive charge – the electrosphere – which is magnetically balanced by a negative layer. Closest to the ground the electric field is maintained by a constant transfer of charge through thunderstorms. The surface of the earth literally has a natural DC current flowing across it at “~100 V/m during fair weather conditions. Diurnal variation can range from ~50 V/m (~12:15 and ~14:15 local time) to ~280 V/m (08:15 and 19:15 local time)… [5]” Internally, at the planet's core are the magnetic poles, of course, and what has been theorized as a natural dynamo of circulating currents in the planet's center[4]."

The human body also uses DC current to send weak electrical messages along cell membranes (the outer shell of a living cell) with low voltage pulses called action potentials. These pulses serve as a communication system between an organism’s central and peripheral nervous system and the muscles. The electric shock from these action potentials causes muscles to contract (shrink) which causes the skeletal system (to which the muscles are attached) to move; thereby allowing the organism locomotion. So while our appliances rely on AC, DC is definitely Mother Nature’s electrical current of choice!

The two types of current are similar – both use a magnetic field to move electrons through circuits. The difference is in the way those electrons move – either in a straight line of wavy back and forth pattern. It should be noted that AC current can be transformed into DC, by going through a device that in effect smoothes out its waves. Many electronic devices convert AC to a low voltage DC. For example your cell phone charger convertsAC to DC so it can then store the current in the battery.

The Current Debate

How a spirit gathers energy and manifests itself is certainly open for debate. I find a lot of amateur ghost hunters blithely explain that a spirit can manifest itself using any energy source available, and therefore any device to measure electricity will work just as well. . But paranormal purists disagree. They argue that a human body uses DC current, therefore, a spirit, having been housed in the body, would also use DC. (By the way, this theory might explain battery drain; as batteries run on DC.).

So, if a spirit can and does utilize sources of DC power, wouldn’t it be wiser to use an electromagnetic field detector that detected DC power, and not AC?

By the way, most of the EMF detectors you’re seeing on television are AC current detectors. These meters seem to be more readily available than DC detectors, having been created for the electrical construction market. They also appear to be the cheaper meters.

Most serious ghost hunters, however, suggest using Natural EMF detectors which measure low current natural (read DC) electromagnetic fields. Of these the Trifield Natural EMF detector appears to be the device of choice, though I found several other systems and brands while researching this article. The natural EMF devices tend to extremely sensitive and should be used in a stationary position versus going handheld. They also are not as simple to use as their AC counterparts. And of course...there’s price. Natural EMF detectors can easily run hundreds of dollars. When it’s all said and done, it’s not surprising that most amateur groups are running around with $30 ghost meters!

So the basic question is still whether an AC meter can pick up spikes of DC current? And the answer does appear to be, yes, in a limited way AC meters can detect some DC spikes. However, ghost hunting aficionados still recommend a DC device for greater accuracy and sensitivity.

Other Meter Recommendations:

On a website dedicated to EMF detectors of all types I found the following recommendations for EMF detectors used specifically for ghost hunting.

1.       Trifield Meter: The hands down favorite is the 3-axis meter with its fast reaction needle gauge and 2 sensitivity scales. This meter is reportedely easy to use right out of the box. However, check weather conditions when using the Tri-Field. One source reported that the Tri-Field can pick up Lightning Strikes up to 7 miles away as well as battery discharges.

2.      3-Axis AC Gauss Meter for high accuracy, the Single Axis AC Gauss Meter for economy, and among the low costsingle axis meters: 3. Gauss Master offers an audio tone

4. E.L.F. Zone offers lights which are very useful in the dark.


[1] “Electricity.” Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

[2] “Using Electricity.” Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

[3[ “The Difference Between AC and DC Current.” Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

[4] "AC/DC: What’s the Difference?" tp:// “Electricity” Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

[5] “The Natural Electric Field of the Earth.” Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

[6] "Most Often Asked Questions as to Which EMF Detector to Buy" Article retrieved May 26, 2010.

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