My doctoral thesis has been submitted! I think, therefore, I have earned the right to bore you with a single post highlighting my findings. My research was loosely related to energy in that I studied human-portable cooling techniques useful to infantry Soldiers. The Soldier battle uniform is leaden with many power-hungry systems, requiring a substantial burden of batteries to provide energy. I strived to create a technique that provides passive Soldier cooling in the desert theater, preventing additional battery bulk in the Soldier suit. In a way my, solution saves both energy and weight.
It turns out that the best passive cooling technique is one that many animals already utilize: sweating. Unfortunately, the modern Soldier battle uniform (particularly body armor) is not permeable to water vapor. When Soldiers get hot, they sweat, but the sweat cannot evaporate to provide cooling. Eventually, Soldiers end up literally simmering in their own juices. In the Middle East, the heat load is particularly intense, and heat-related injuries are a constant threat. Anecdotal stories from Afghanistan suggest that Soldiers sometimes remove their body armor in the field to prevent the onset heat stroke. However, they are then vulnerable to injuries from bullets and blast waves.
In my doctoral research, I studied various nano-engineered porous materials that may provide simultaneous mechanical and thermal protection for the Soldier. These lab-scale samples have promise to one day be used as a new body armor material, and they can be designed to allow water vapor (but very little else) pass through at high mass flux rates. Thus, a Soldier wearing body armor made of these new materials would be able to sweat through his protective shell to cool himself while enjoying the protective benefits afforded by his body armor.
It feels great to be finished with my thesis, but it feels even better to know I worked on a solution to a practical problem that may soon be scaled up to keep our military personnel safer. Sometimes Ph.D. theses can easily degrade into the truly irrelevant, but thankfully my research retained focus on a practical and important problem throughout.