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"Patch Work" -- The Discovery Files

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Engineers at Rutgers and Oregon State Universities have found an inexpensive way to make thin, durable heating patches by using intense pulses of light to fuse tiny silver wires with polyester. It's estimated that 42 percent of the energy used for indoor heating is wasted to heat empty space and objects instead of people. However, the new heating patches can be sewn into clothing, so they can be more localized to specifically warm humans.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Patches of warming.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: kids: winter wind) On a cold day outside, (Sound effect: kids: close window; wind stops) it's warm inside. Right where you are and everywhere in the place you're not. Nearly half of global energy is used for indoor heating and 42 percent of that is wasted heating empty space and objects rather than people. That's why engineers at Rutgers and Oregon State Universities have developed a more localized way of getting heat directly to where it's needed most: Thermal patches that can be sewn into clothing that perform far better than other similar devices.

The inexpensive patches can be stitched into any article of clothing to generate heat to selected areas of the body. Each runs off a small, coin-sized battery. The patches are made from silver nanowires thousands of times thinner than a hair fused to polyester fibers using pulses of high-energy light. Compared to other thermal patches, these put out more heat and are more durable when bent, washed or exposed to high heat or humidity.

Next step is seeing how many patches are needed and where to place them to keep us warm and toasty. Eventually we may be able to save energy by turning down our thermostats and turning up our sweaters, socks, jammies, gloves and coats. And for my grandma, who always seems to be chilled maybe an entire body suit.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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