Performance Apparel Design Lab
The compression measurement system allows researchers to collect qualitative and quantitative data on compression garments. “Compression garments are popular, especially in athletics,” says Huiju Park. “However, there isn’t significant data that backs up the trend.” The PADL is using the compression measurement system to better understand this trend in clothing items, such as sports bras, compression socks, and shape garments. To use the system, a test subject wears air pocket sensors underneath compression garments while performing tasks outlined by the researcher. A monitor attached to the sensors computes pressure levels in the air pockets as the compression garment tightens. While the monitor is collecting quantitative data, the researcher can also ask the test subject how the clothing feels. The system is useful for learning the threshold of compression certain areas of the body can sustain. The PADL also uses the compression measurement system to test for garment fit and ensure that clothing pieces are comfortable.
An infrared camera uses infrared radiation to create an image. It can see objects based on their temperature. The PADL uses the infrared camera to research clothing’s ability to trap or release heat. “If a test subject were wearing a ski jacket in a cold environment chamber, the researcher could check for areas that are releasing heat,” says Huiju Park. “If a warm space is seen, that means heat is escaping, and cold air is flowing into the jacket.” The PADL has used the infrared camera on firefighter uniforms to better understand which areas need enhanced thermal protection. This research has ensured the safety of firefighters who are exposed to high heat.
The wireless surface electromyography sensor set is equipped with a sensor, battery, and processor. The sensors attach to a test subject’s major muscle groups. The subject first wears the sensors underneath lightweight, comfortable clothing, and performs a task. After their normal muscle behaviors are captured, the subject wears a ballistic garment and does the same routine. The sensor set measures which muscles experience fatigue faster or abnormally. Based on data collected, researchers are then able to adjust the ballistic garment to have less of an effect on muscle fatigue.
The in-shoe plantar pressure device evaluates plantar pressure through the use of an in-shoe system that provides a better understanding of foot function and comfort. The flexible and thin sensors are placed inside the shoe during research. A strap around the ankle collects the data and sends it to a transmitter around the waist, which then wirelessly sends the information to a laptop. Huiju Park recently used the device to assess balance—to see how central plantar pressure changes in different shoe conditions.
In order to see a foot’s morphology, a researcher has to capture the foot shape while the subject is holding its body weight. The three-dimensional foot scanner lets the user distribute their weight evenly on both feet while a laser captures the three-dimensional shape. After the image is taken, markers and reference points are applied on the image to measure the foot. Members of the PADL use the scanner to collect quantitative data to prove or disprove ideas about foot comfort.
The inertial sensor-based 3D motion capture system monitors and records the human body in real time. Researchers in the PADL use it for measuring a subject’s range of motion and other biomechanical parameters such as gait pattern and body movement. Small sensors are placed on the legs, arms, and back of a subject, and the information from the sensors is transmitted wirelessly. The researcher records real-time data and watches an on-screen avatar. Huiju Park uses this system to assess how a firefighter reacts to rubber boots or leather boots. Rubber boots are more common in firefighting gear, but based on data collected from this system, leather boots can support a wider range of motion than rubber. This makes a difference to firefighters, whose number one cause of injury is muscle strain.
Jintu Fan, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, developed the sweating thermal manikin. Its unique design simulates how the human body thermally regulates temperature. The manikin is equipped with two pumps and two heaters. The heaters generate body heat, and the pumps circulate warm water inside of the manikin, causing it to sweat. A breathable covering allows moisture to develop on the manikin’s skin. Researchers use the manikin to objectively measure the thermal comfort of materials and clothing.
The Performance Apparel Design Lab (PADL) works to improve mobility and thermal comfort in clothing systems, including protective gear, sportswear, and wearable devices placed on the body. "When it comes to protective clothing, often people place priority on protection,” says Huiju Park, Fiber Science and Apparel Design and director of the lab. “But adding protection intrinsically increases discomfort because when you add layers, you also add weight, bulk, and poor ventilation.” Solving this paradox is the mission of the lab. Researchers work with firefighters, military personnel, and sportswear companies to research and design necessary changes to uniforms and protective garments.
In 2016 the lab received a grant from the United States Agency for International Development to improve Ebola protective clothing for medical personnel working in West Africa. Research findings showed that the current protective gear used by medical personnel took two hours to don and doff. Personnel were using duct tape to wrap any exposed areas, and often someone would watch while the outfit was donned to ensure that all seams were completely airtight. “It is like you are wearing a raincoat completely covering your body from head to toe, with your sweat puddling in your boots,” says Huiju Park.
The lab developed a unique lightweight-cooling device for Ebola protective clothing. They also designed a closure system so that medical personnel only have to cinch a string to make the garment impermeable. “When the garment is ready to be doffed,” says Huiju Park, “they only have to pull the string, the whole sleeve will pop open, and the garment will slide down to the floor.”
Cornell is the only Ivy League university that offers a fashion design program with strong leadership in technical design and a synergy with the latest technologies in fiber science research. “The mission of the lab is to enhance people’s well-being by providing improved comfort, safety, and enhanced functionalities through technical design and research on clothing systems,” says Huiju Park. “Because we collaborate with experts in other fields on campus, we are able to be a pioneer of functional and technical apparel design.”