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Person wearing a prototype cooling and heating patch embedded in a mesh armband.

A battery-powered cooling device can be embedded in a flexible armband. Credit: David Baillot/Jacobs School of Engineering, Univ. California, San Diego

Materials science

Air conditioner ‘in a patch’ provides portable cooling

Device exploits semiconductors to whisk heat away from a polymer skin patch.

Personal cooling could be one step closer to reality, thanks to the advent of a flexible cooling device that can be incorporated into clothing.

Thermoelectric systems use semiconductors to pump heat from one side of a device to the other, creating a cool zone and a hot zone. Such systems can provide compact, easily adjustable cooling, but getting them to efficiently dissipate heat has proved challenging.

Renkun Chen, Sheng Xu and their colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, addressed this problem by embedding multiple pillars of a semiconducting material between two stretchy polymer sheets. One sheet served as the hot zone, the other as the cool zone. This design conferred flexibility and insulated the hot and cold sides from each other, allowing the hot layer to dissipate its heat into the air.

The team added a flexible battery pack to the design, creating a patch that can cool skin temperature by more than 10ºC. The use of such devices could reduce the demand for energy to power central air conditioning by 20% in typical buildings, and enhance a wearer’s comfort outdoors, the authors say.

More Research Highlights...

Camera-trap image of Dendrohyrax interfluvialis

Some tree hyraxes scream in the night, but the newly identified Dendrohyrax interfluvialis (above, camera-trap image) utters a complex series of squawks, rattles and barks. Credit: J. F. Oates et al./Zool. J. Linn. Soc.


A bark in the dark reveals a hidden hyrax

Its neighbours scream, but a new species of tree hyrax — a cousin of the elephant — unleashes a rattling bark.
Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty


Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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