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Indian-Origin Student Designs Sweatshirt That Cools Body by Using Sweat to Generate Power

Rohit Nemani, 17, wants to help athletes by designing a fabric that will use sweat for a cooling effect.

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Updated:May 26, 2019, 11:55 AM IST
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Indian-Origin Student Designs Sweatshirt That Cools Body by Using Sweat to Generate Power
Rohit Nemani has found a way to make sweat "cooler" | Image credit: Twitter/Reuters

A sweatshirt that keeps you cool — using your sweat. That’s a young researcher’s plan to put the irritating body fluid to better use. Rohit Nemani, 17, wants to help athletes by designing a fabric that will use sweat for a cooling effect. Sweat contains salts, which are electrically charged particles. According to a Science News for Students report, Nemani is sure that if he can weave electrodes into the fabric of a shirt, “he could use those salts to generate electricity.”

That electricity can then be used to power an actively cooling fabric that Nemani hopes to put into the body of the sweatshirt. “When it cools you down, you sweat less,” Nemani said. “That, in turn, will turn off power to the fabric. Then, as someone sweats more again, the electricity returns and the cooling fabric goes back to work,” the report says.

In order to figure out how to weave materials such as carbon and zinc into a shirt, Nemani emailed universities for access to special 3-D printers. Jesse Jur at North Carolina State University in Raleigh let the Cox Mill High School varsity student use his equipment to print carbon and to attach zinc washers onto his fabric — allowing the fabric to conduct electricity. Rohit finally got his fabric. “The inner cotton layer soaks up this moisture from the skin by what’s known as capillary action. The next layer is polyester. Being hydrophobic (Hy-droh-FOH-bik) — it repels water. That spreads the sweat out, allowing it to come into contact with the carbon and zinc electrodes. Salts in the sweat react with the carbon and zinc pressed into the shirt, producing tiny amounts of electricity,” according to the report.

Rohit found that half a milliliter of sweat (a tenth of a teaspoon) can produce about 0.6 to 0.7 volt of electricity. By linking electrodes in this sleeve together with metallic yarn, Rohit got about 1.7 volts off his sleeve— just enough to power the actively cooling fabric. Rohit brought a sample of his new sweatshirt system to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona. Rohit has built only the one sleeve but hopes to weave together the electricity-conducting sleeve and active-cooling fabric into a full, prototype shirt.

He has already changed the fabric’s design to make it flexible and stretchy and also wants to reduce how much carbon and zinc it uses to produce electricity. “There are obviously athletes trying to increase their performance,” he said. He also points to “people in the military and anyone who works outside in [hot] conditions” that could put them at risk of heatstroke. Rohit hopes his shirt can help them by squeezing just a little more cooling out of every drop of sweat.

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