Unique lab could lead to safer clothing for firefighters, military or offshore oil crews

The Campaign for a Bold New Brock

Unique lab could lead to safer clothing for firefighters, military or offshore oil crews

Oct. 13, 2009

Developing protective clothing to help people survive extreme temperatures is the main focus of a unique North American lab opened today at Brock University.

Stephen Cheung, associate professor, Physical Education and Kinesiology, and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, officially opened his new lab at Brock with the help of government officials and a demonstration from students on his research team.

The demonstration was part of a ceremony involving several special guests, including Michèle Boutin, the new executive director of the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat, and Jac van Beek, vice-president, Programs and Planning, Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Cheung’s lab has a specialized chamber that is the only one of its kind in North America, and one of only three in the world. It controls temperature, humidity and oxygen levels in varying degrees, allowing his team to study the effects on human physiology, either separately or in combined effects.

The chamber enables researchers to test protective clothing for extreme weather, since temperatures can vary from -30 Celsius to +50 Celsius, and simulate altitudes up to 2,300m above sea level (equivalent of Mexico City). The research could improve the safety of protective clothing for firefighters, offshore oil workers, military personnel or those who do work in Arctic environments.

Cheung’s team also studies the effect of water temperature on human physiology using a large water tank in which the temperature can be adjusted from 8 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius. The tank was used for a student-led demonstration during today’s event.

“Not only will this lab enhance the research capability of Dr. Cheung’s team, but it will also offer many collaboration projects with researchers from across Brock University, with industry and other partners,” says Liette Vasseur, vice-president Research at Brock. “This unique facility has great potential to expand the conventional boundaries through innovative interdisciplinary research.”

This research has immediate applications given the recent news stories related to fishermen falling overboard in the Atlantic, or the offshore oil workers who had to abandon their helicopter and ditch into the ocean before reaching the oil platform. Cheung’s team is interested in building better survival gear for just such incidents.


Media Coverage:

University lab simulates harsh weather conditions - CTV/Canada AM, Oct. 10
Stephen Cheung appeared on CTV National News and Canada AM regarding the opening of his new lab.

Cool lab, hot research at Brock University - St. Catharines Standard, Oct. 10
Coverage of the opening of a lab used by Stephen Cheung, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics.