New York, United States, Ithaca
Theme/Year: Climate Change 2017
Category: Student Challenge
Status: Honorable Mention
With climate change exacerbating the frequency and intensity of heat waves, it is becoming increasingly crucial to alleviate the effects of extreme heat. Heat waves and increasing ambient temperatures disproportionately affect elderly and low-income populations. As age increases, the human body becomes less effective at thermoregulation, putting older adults at higher risk. Exposure to excessive heat can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions - a consideration for both the elderly and lower-income populations, who have less access to healthcare and a greater incidence of chronic conditions. Existing thermoregulation solutions, including air-conditioning and community cooling centers, are either inaccessible, unaffordable, or underutilized by these vulnerable populations. Our design solution aims to fill this gap by reducing individual body temperature during extreme heat events when air-conditioning, cooling centers, or other solutions are not available. To create a viable solution for low-income families, the elderly, and other susceptible populations, the design must be low-cost, accessible, sustainable, fit for both long-term and short-term use, and require minimal instruction. With these requirements in mind, we created “AsteroIdea” – a garment with cooling technology inspired by the thermoregulatory mechanisms of sea stars. Pisaster ochraceus (a species of sea star) self-regulates its internal body temperature by adapting to tidal conditions, absorbing cool water during high tide in order to reduce the effects of direct heat while exposed during low tide. When soaked in water, our garment mimics this mechanism via water-absorbing polymer beads. These non-toxic, reusable, eco-friendly beads retain water for hours at a time, allowing moisture to evaporate through the external fabric of the garment and cooling the body. The beads have been integrated into a jacket at key thermoregulatory points on the body (neck, elbows, wrists), allowing users to simply wet the jacket during extreme heat for a quick and durable method to cool their body temperature.