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Mizzou Engineers Build A Wearable Device To Keep People Cool On Hot Days

A person testing out a cooling wearable device developed by University of Missouri engineers.
University of Missouri

Engineers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are developing a wearable device that could provide much-needed cooling on extremely hot days. 

The device is a small wired patch made out of a special type of porous plastic that doesn’t require any fans, pumps or electricity to cool the wearer. The technology reflects sunlight away from the body to reduce the person’s exposure to heat.

Wearing the device could cool the person by 11 degrees, the researchers reported this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It could be useful for people whose jobs require them to work long hours in the heat, said Zheng Yan, an engineering professor at Mizzou. 

“Soldiers can use this technology to cool down on the battlefield and prevent heatstroke and exhaustion,” Yan said. “[It] can also benefit the general public who need to work in the warm weather or people who exercise.” 

The patch has tiny sensors that can detect the wearer’s temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Eventually, researchers aim for the device to be wireless, waterproof and recyclable. They also want to see technology incorporated into clothing. Research to develop “smart textiles” has grown sharply in recent years. 

The technology is too early in its development to estimate how much it will cost. But the materials are used in many commercial products, so it could be affordable, Yan said. 

“We think the price would be economic with a large-scale manufacturer,” he said. 

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.