Adam Savage and Guest Engineer Build Refrigerated Cooling Suit

Adam Savage is a Science Fiction fan and engineer/special effects technician on YouTube. I think he was also one half of Mythbusters, a cable/satellite TV series in which he and his co-host put to the test various popular myths. Such as whether a car door really could shield you from bullets as shown in any number of cop shows and films.

In his YouTube channel, Savage goes off to various SF conventions and gatherings, talking to stars, special effects people and fans. He also builds replica movie props and effects. In this video, he and his guest, biomedical engineer Kipp Bradford, build a refrigerated suit.

Savage says that he’s building it because a few years ago, he went to a convention wearing a replica of the spacesuits worn in the classic SF/horror movie Alien. Wearing its quilted material in such a hot environment, however, nearly gave him heatstroke. He went to another convention after that wearing a copy of the silver space suites from Kubrick’s 2001. This had a type of cooling system built into it to stop him becoming too hot, but it seems to have just circulated water around without being a refrigerator. The refrigerated cooling suit he and Bradford build uses the same kind of technology used in domestic fridges to keep food and drink cool. It works by pumping a refrigerated fluid around which takes heat from the objects to be cooled and radiates it away. In this case, the suit uses a miniature compressor and two heat exchangers. The miniature compressor was made by DARPA for the American armed forces. Nearly two decades ago after Gulf War II the American government called for a similar refrigerated suit to be developed to keep its squaddies cool in the desert heat. The project was abandoned when it was realised that if something went wrong with the suits, the soldiers would be seriously compromised.

The suit the two use for the device is an RAF cooling suit from c. 1975. It’s designed for the British air forces high altitude pilots, and Savage says he picked it up a few years ago at an auction. I have an idea it was a similar suit with tubes for circulating fluid that the costume/make up department of Dr. Who used for the Cybermen seen in the 1980s Peter Davison story Earthshock. 

I don’t think this is something that can be built at home by your average SF fan or DIY enthusiast. Obviously one of the issues is simply getting hold of the components. They mention that one of the compressors is available from a company that will provide single units. All the other companies providing refrigerator components will only supply them in bulk, so unless you order 10,000 of them, they won’t give you anything. They also use a proper, industrial refrigerant as the coolant. There’s a lot of joking about using alcohol, including vodka as the coolant, and they state that this is a viable option. But I really don’t think that is the stuff they eventually use. They do say, on the other hand, that it isn’t the freon used in older fridges in the 1970s, for example, that was one of the gases that put a hole in the ozone layer. That’s been replaced by more ecofriendly chemicals, so that the hole is actually now closing. Which is clearly a win for the environment, even if the planet is still suffering from massive pollution and the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of millions of endangered species.

For all the light, jokey tone, it’s clear that Bradford is an incredibly intelligent man. While Savage jokes that he’s only got honorary degrees, which aren’t worth anything, Bradford has a string of higher qualifications. He’s a biomechanical engineer, who has designed similar cooling units for medevac for injured American troopers.

The two manage to construct a small refrigerator and connect it to the suit. And it works! Through an infrared app on a mobile phone camera they show it lowering Savage’s temperature as he’s wearing it down to quite a cold level. The only drawback for this viewer is that they don’t create any kind of backpack for it enabling Savage to wear it with the suit. Wearing it, Savage remarks that it’s given him an insight into the achievement of the NASA scientists and engineers, who built the spacesuits. Not only did these include similar cooling systems, but they also had to include other vital systems like air.

I found this video particularly interesting as a fan of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, the Fremen and other people survive the harsh conditions on the desert planet Arakis by wearing still suits. These reclaim the body’s moisture from sweat and wastes through semi-permeable membranes, treating it so that it becomes drinkable water. Fans of the Australian-American ’90s SF show, Farscape, will also remember the cooling suit worn by the villain Scorpius. Scorpius is half-Skaren, half-Sebatian. The Skarens are tough, reptile-like creatures with a high body temperature and craving for heat. The Sebatians, by contrast, are identical to humans but lack human’s ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re therefore vulnerable to overheating and falling into an incurable coma. In order to stop this, Scorpius wears a refrigerated suit specially designed for him, and has had surgery performed so that he can insert cooling rods into his skull to lower the temperature of his brain. Mercifully, no-one has suggested doing anything like that yet, although some extreme conditions are treated by placing the patient in a coma and lowering their body temperature. This nifty little piece of engineering shows that while we haven’t quite reached the ability to produce a still suit like Dune’s, we’re not far off it.

As you can also see from the video, Kipp Bradford’s Black or mixed-race. There’s a move to make science and engineering more diverse, with more women and Blacks and people from ethnic minorities. I therefore thought the video might also be of interest, as it clearly shows that Blacks are also capable of doing great, awesome science and engineering. Not that there should be any doubt of it. The ‘McCoy’ of the phrase ‘It’s the real McCoy!’, said of any great invention or clever device, was apparently an American naval engineer around about World War II, who became famous for the marvels he could work on board ships.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: