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Thursday, 9 September 2010


We sweat to dump excess body heat.

Sweating is an elegantly efficient mechanism that takes advantage of the fact that our most readily available liquid - water - carries an exceptionally large quantity of energy away when it evaporates. The enthalpy of vaporization of water is 2257 kilojoules per kilogram. This means that if you are exercising at 500 watts for half an hour (which is a good aerobic workout) you only need to evaporate 400 grams of sweat to carry away all the heat you generate. That's one large glass of water.

In practice, it works even better than that because you also lose heat by radiation and convection as well. But just because something marvelous has evolved, it doesn't mean that we can't improve on it.

As anyone caught in a rainstorm in light clothing knows, a wet shirt is very cold indeed, especially when the wind blows. It is sweating for you when you don't need it to.

We also deliberately get our clothes wet once each time we wear them: we wash them afterwards.

Poly-(N-IsoPropyl-AcrylAmide) is hydrophobic above 37oC and hydrophilic below 32oC. This means that at low temperatures it holds onto water, and at high temperatures it expels it. There are other materials with similar properties.

Suppose we were to make clothing incorporating these materials? If we were to wash them on a warm wash, they would absorb some of the final rinse water and then retain it when cold, feeling dry to the touch. But when we exercised in them, or simply found ourselves in the warm sun, they would start to give up their stored water.

Our clothing would keep us warm and dry when it was cold, then sweat for us when it was hot.

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