USAID taps Cornell to advance Ebola protective garments

ebola suit
Mark Vorreuter
Huiju Park will lead a Cornell effort to design a new generation of protective garments against Ebola.

In the war against Ebola, Cornell University – along with partners International Personnel Protection Inc (IPP) and protective apparel manufacturer Kappler Inc. – will rethink, reimagine and re-engineer protective suits for health care workers on the front lines battling the life-threatening contagion.

The garments will be more comfortable and breathable, with leak-free barrier protection, better hood design and the suits will be easier to remove.

In February, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded Cornell, IPP and Kappler one of 12 grants from more than 1,500 global submissions to its Fighting Ebola challenge.

Current protective garments offer no breathability, which leads to heat stress, profuse sweating and discomfort. “A biological, protective clothing system is the only shield available for those who serve to fight against Ebola,” said Huiju Park, assistant professor in fiber science and apparel design, a grant team member. “The battle is being fought in the most challenging environment in Africa in extremely high temperatures and humid conditions.”

Specifically, Park and David Mengyun Shi, a graduate student in the field of functional apparel design, will develop prototypes for a lightweight, effective cooling technology for quick heat release to prevent thermal discomfort and heat stroke.

The researchers will use Cornell’s sweating thermal mannequin to simulate human physiology in responding to heat challenges and measuring properties of the clothing. Jintu Fan, department chair of Fiber Science & Apparel Design and director of Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation, will supervise the evaluation and provide technical consultation on the effective heat-release mechanisms.

The researchers expect to have a successful prototype – to be made at an affordable price – within a year.

The USAID’s Fighting Ebola challenge launched last October seeking new, practical solutions in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense. In just two months, the challenge received more than 1,500 ideas from around the world. “We are embracing a new model of development – one that harnesses the power of science and technology to bend the curve of development,” said Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator.

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Joe Schwartz