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Posted 03.31.05

MU Researchers Develop Program to Predict a Soldier's Physical Capabilities

U.S. Air Force Helped Fund Project

COLUMBIA, Mo. - In Iraq, U.S. Armed Forces must battle not only Iraqi insurgents, but also the extreme heat of the Middle East. It is vital information to know how long a combat fighter will physically last in the environment while wearing heavy clothing, such as the chemical and biological warfare suits worn by soldiers in Iraq. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have developed a computer model that will predict the heat stress for these fighters, an advancement that will help save lives by better understanding soldiers' physical limitations.

"In the past, climate control rarely was a factor when determining the physical capabilities of a fighter," said Curtis Cline, an MU research assistant who coordinated the project with fellow research assistants Kristie Pietarila, Tony Iyoho, Tai Jang and John Gall. "However, if people aren't physically comfortable doing their jobs, then they may not be able to perform their duties at full capacity. This model will significantly help measure a fighter's physical abilities."

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The team, supervised by Satish Nair, MU professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, conducted extensive testing in an environmental chamber built at the College of Engineering. The initial test involved seven male and seven female subjects ranging in age from 19 to 26.

The subjects wore protective clothing and equipment used by the Armed Forces and walked on treadmills at different speeds while sensors measured physical variables such as skin temperature, core temperature, and metabolic and heart rates. The model used individual characteristics such as maximum oxygen consumption, body fat percentage, height, weight, heat acclimation and age to predict the person's heat stress. The chamber simulated normal, jungle and desert conditions. The researchers conducted the tests in temperatures ranging from 75 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity ranging from 25 to 75 percent.

Gall said the model can be used on any handheld computer or PDA, making it easy for field testing. He also believes this model can be helpful for firefighters, pilots, workers in hazardous environments and NASA.

Nair and his team recently traveled to San Antonio to present their findings to the sponsors. They currently are working on several papers for publication. The research was funded by the U.S. Air Force.



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