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On-skin device with cooling capabilities could help prevent exhaustion

Image credit: Oleg Zabielin - Dreamstime

Engineers at the University of Missouri have developed a ‘wearable air conditioning’ on-skin device which could one day be used by soldiers to cool down on the battlefield, preventing heat stroke or exhaustion.

According to the engineering team behind the device, it includes numerous human health care applications such as the ability to monitor blood pressure, the electrical activity of the heart and the level of skin hydration.

Unlike similar products and concepts already known, the researchers at Missouri said this breathable and waterproof device can deliver personal air conditioning to a human body through a process called passive cooling. This type of cooling does not utilise electricity, such as a fan or pump, which the team believe allows for minimal discomfort to the user.

“Our device can reflect sunlight away from the human body to minimise heat absorption, while simultaneously allowing the body to dissipate body heat, thereby allowing us to achieve around 11°F (-11°C) of cooling to the human body during the daytime hours,” said Zheng Yan, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering.

Also a corresponding author of the research, Yan added: “We believe this is one of the first demonstrations of this capability in the emerging field of on-skin electronics.”

On-skin device diagram

An on-skin device designed by engineers at the University of Missouri can achieve around 11°F (-11°C) of cooling to the human body. The device also includes numerous human health care applications such as the ability to monitor blood pressure, electrical activity of the heart and the level of skin hydration.

Image credit: University of Missouri

The prototype device is a small wired patch: the team said it will take one to two years to design a wireless version. They also hope to eventually take their technology and apply it to ‘smart’ clothing.

“We would like to take this technology and apply it to the development of smart textiles,” Yan said. “That would allow for the device’s cooling capabilities to be delivered across the whole body.”

Yan added that, as of late, the cooling is only concentrated in a specific area - i.e. where the patch is located - and that the invention could potentially help reduce electricity usage and thus also help with global warming.

The study ‘Multiscale porous elastomer substrates for multifunctional on-skin electronics with passive-cooling capabilities’ was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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