Located in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia in a restored 1864 textile mill, The Philadelphia University Research Center houses the Laboratory of Engineered Human Protection as well as the Materials Evaluation Laboratory.
The Laboratory for Engineered Human Protection at Philadelphia University was founded in August 2004 and is funded under a Department of Defense University Research Initiative grant. The grant has been renewed each year and the Laboratory is currently funded through August 2008. Additional funding has been appropriated in the DoD FY 2008 spending bill. Work is carried out under a contract with the Natick Soldier Center, Natick MA and modified annually to specific and jointly determined objectives each year.
The Laboratory’s charter is to create garments that protect American servicemen and women against battlefield hazards and are also sufficiently comfortable to wear for periods required by the mission. This is a substantial challenge especially for the Laboratory’s principal focus to date—protection against chemical warfare agents—because increasing the protection adds to the garment’s weight and extent to which it encapsulates the body. LEHP’s garment designs must overcome that to prevent the wearer’s becoming overheated during the stress of battle with resulting inability to carry out the mission.
The LEHP program currently consists of two closely integrated principal thrusts. In one, the measured properties of fabrics and garments are correlated with comfort perceived by wearers using the powerful tool of artificial intelligence (AI), an area in which Philadelphia University has unique expertise. Data for this purpose are generated in the University’s Materials Evaluation Laboratory, a fully equipped testing facility that includes state-of-the-art equipment such as a walking sweating manikin and is staffed by experts renowned in their field. Artificial Intelligence can then project comfort from fabric data to guide garment selection and design.
The co-critical objective is designing, developing and producing prototype chemically protective garments with the required comfort using the latest materials produced in collaboration with selected suppliers. These garments, which are designed to address multiple battlefield missions and chemical toxin challenges, are evaluated in close cooperation with the military services and are performing outstandingly in those tests. Our industrial partner for this activity is Ricochet Manufacturing in nearby Germantown.
Prototype LEHP garments to date have been manufactured from a proprietary chemically protective laminate supplied by a collaborating partner. This material works by blocking penetration of the toxic material while allowing sufficient passage of moisture to provide comfort. All seams on these garments are stitchless—that is they are bonded to avoid the tiny perforations introduced by sewing. Evaluations of protective capability were carried out by FAST (Fluorescent Aerosol Screening Test) testing and comfort plus durability were measured by Human Factors evaluation. Additional assessment is being made by the Contaminated Doffing procedure to optimize design still further. We will also be using the DoD funded Walking Sweating Manikin system to determine some of the critical thermo mechanical behavior of the prototype garment systems.
Our latest prototype LEHP garments are being made from a lighter weight and more breathable proprietary fabric of the membrane type that is used in conjunction with specialty absorbents to ensure that all toxins are rejected or captured. These garments are being produced with LEHP’s new adaptive design concept that enables a variety of missions and toxin challenges—together with substantially enhanced comfort and garment life—to be addressed from a common design platform.
Going forward, the current thrusts will continue with increasing refinement of design and employment of superior materials together with still more challenging protection and comfort evaluations. Beginning with project year five, LEHP researchers plan to take on additional protection requirements examples being those presented by blast, fire and heat that comes from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
To reach the Laboratory for Engineered Human Protection by telephone, call 215.951.5947.