These boots are made for chilling?

Nate Ulrich

Rob Demes adjusts Greg Farnell’s battle dress uniform with an Army-issued gas mask during the preliminary testing of the micro-climate cooling system. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLEN GLICKMAN

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Groundbreaking research will be conducted at Kent State to help U.S. soldiers fight off the sweltering temperatures they encounter in desert operations.

Rob Demes and Ellen Glickman, who are both contract employees for the Army, will test subjects this summer to determine the efficiency of a micro-climate cooling system when it’s placed in combat boots.

The system, which features a device that pumps cold water through coils inserted in boots, is designed to lower the core temperature of its users to decrease the chance of heat-related injuries, Demes said.

“There has been a call from generals and different people who are in Iraq right now,” said Demes, a doctoral student in exercise physiology. “Of course they want immediate solutions to the problem of heat exhaustion and different things caused by it.”

Soldiers are susceptible to heat-related injuries because of the equipment they must wear while working in an extremely hot environment.

“As you heat up you come to a point where you hit critical core temperatures, especially when you’re wearing battle dress undergarments and a gas mask,” Demes said. “By putting all this equipment on, say it’s 95 degrees outside, now you’re raising that temperature another 10 degrees. With wearing all this equipment, you’re unable to dump any heat, so inevitably your core temperature is going to rise to the critical level, which is 39.5 degrees Celsius (103.1 degrees Fahrenheit).”

Demes said it’s been proven that more than 50 percent of any individual who hits that critical core temperature will stop working because they’re just too hot.

Earlier research

Glickman said earlier cooling systems have been developed by her colleagues at the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass.

“There was somebody who years ago worked on this system that was preliminarily tested,” said Glickman, a professor in exercise physiology. “It crossed over (to my research) because the person actually worked in my division, which is military nutrition.”

Demes said his mentor, Samuel Cheuvront, developed a cooling system in Natick that was used in a vest and a helmet.

“What they found is that the equipment (in the vest) takes up so much battery power that it can’t run very long,” Demes said. “You can create a smaller, lighter micro-climate cooling system (in boots) that will be as effective as the larger, bulkier system that they have now, and it will translate into using less battery power.”

Demes said the cooling system has never been tested in boots before. Military researchers want to know if the boots will provide a more portable, effective alternative to past protocols, he said.

“They have used the head gear in the past,” Demes said. “They want to know if they should just think about the head, or are the feet much greater at dissipating heat than the head?”

Testing

Demes said he plans to test eight subjects who must fit into either a size 10 or 12 men’s boot. Each subject will go through three separate trials: One with the cooling system in the helmet, one with the cooling system in the boots and one placebo with no cooling at all. All three trials will be done on separate days and randomly selected, he said.

Glickman said the participants will be dressed in a military ensemble.

“They’re wearing underwear, a T-shirt, battle dress uniforms, a battle dress overgarment, gloves, the micro-cooling hat, boots and an Army-issued gas mask,” Glickman said. “So we’re essentially covering their entire body so they can’t dissipate any heat and then measuring their core temperature.”

The core temperature of each subject will be measured by a telethermetric pill that he or she will swallow eight hours before testing, Demes said. The pill contains a computer chip that sends a signal to an external device, giving a temperature reading.

Each subject will walk on a treadmill in a chamber that will be set at 87 degrees, Demes said.

“After putting on that gear, it’s going to feel like it’s 97 degrees, plus you’re going to be walking 3 mph at a 2-percent grade,” Demes said. “We’re simulating a work level of someone carrying equipment from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ or walking a perimeter on guard duty.”

The subject’s core temperature at the end of each trial will indicate the cooling system’s success in the boots. However, Demes said there will be another key piece of data.

“The most important thing will be the difference between the inlet temperature and the outlet temperature of the water (that ran through the coils),” he said. “The higher the outlet temperature of that water, the more heat that was dissipated.”

Demes said the water will be 20 degrees Celsius at the beginning of the trial. A rise of 5-10 degrees in water temperature would be significant, he said.

The future

Demes said positive results from the experiment will promote further research at the institute in Natick.

“If the feet provide enough cooling capacity, I would suspect that they’ll look at smaller body surfaces,” Demes said. “They’d look into those smaller body surface areas, such as the thigh, to develop a smaller system. That way it would be lighter to carry, it won’t be as bulky and it will still eliminate enough heat to keep the core temperature from rising.”

Glickman said the research could lead to production in the next couple of years.

“You need three different individual research trials that yield the same results in order to get a patent,” Glickman said.

Glickman said the system has the potential to benefit people who aren’t in the military. She said it could also be used to help firefighters and football players avoid heat-related injuries.

Contact College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Nate Ulrich at [email protected]