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In order to design antennas, first you must have bologna

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Spencer Webb/AntennaSys

Bologna is not the best deli meat. But, if you’re looking for a cheap sandwich, it’s perfect. It’s also perfect if you’re designing antennas and want to make sure your antennas will work well when they’re near a human body.

See, when designing antennas, it’s important to know how they’ll be used. An antenna on the side of a building will be very different than the antenna in a phone that’s being held against your head, or one in a watch that’s on your wrist. The human body has a significant impact on an antenna’s effectiveness and that’s why it’s important to test your antenna designs against something that approximates a person.

Since making a person sit there with an antenna against them for hours and hours during antenna design would be kind of mean, top antenna designers use something called a Human Body Analog. In the case of the picture above? Bologna.

This picture is courtesy of Spencer Webb at AntennaSys, a company that custom-designs antennas for everything from Felix Baumgartner’s beltpack to “special projects” for the US government.

The bologna is replaced “as often as necessary for it not to be disgusting.”

According to Webb, bologna is better than higher-quality meats because the characteristics don’t change over time. This particular pack of bologna, used here with a test dipole to check equipment, is even expired. “You can demonstrate that holding the antenna up to the bologna and holding it up to your chest has a similar effect,” says Webb. “So you can use the bologna to do repeatable tests on body-worn devices.”

The bologna is kept in the official AntennaSys lab fridge and is replaced “as often as necessary for it not to be disgusting.” The chilled nature of the bologna doesn’t matter as the losses related to being next to a body are “relatively insensitive to temperature.”

So, next time you hold your iPhone to your head or strap on your fitness tracker, just think — at some point, that antenna might have been strapped to some expired bologna.

In the interest of full disclosure, Spencer is a friend of mine, but that has nothing to do with him using bologna to design fancy antennas. He also wrote this terrible jingle:

My Human Body Analog has a first name,

It's O-S-C-A-R.

My Human Body Analog has a second name,

It's M-A-Y-E-R.

Oh, I love to test body-worn antennas with it everyday,

And if you ask me why I'll say,

Cause' Oscar Mayer has a way with Coupled Loss and R-sub-a!!!!