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Northwest efforts could ease troops discomfort in heat

To protect against possible chemical or biological attack in the war with Iraq, U.S. troops are equipped with cumbersome suits that are difficult to wear, especially in hot climates such as the Middle East's.

Researchers in Oregon and Washington are developing a solution, though not in time for the current Iraqi conflict. They are working on tiny, portable cooling systems that would keep soldiers cool for hours in their hot, enclosed suits.

The systems are being developed at Oregon State University in Corvallis and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Their inventors envision a day when soldiers will carry lightweight cooling systems powered by 'microchemical/thermal systems,' according to the lab's Web site (www.pnl.gov).

The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is based on microtechnology, the miniaturization of energy and biochemical systems.

Here are other small-sized systems being developed for future soldiers:

• 'Biosensors' the size of lapel pins that would detect chemical and biological agents and other airborne toxins.

• Microscale fuel processors that produce hydrogen from liquid fuels using the hydrogen to produce electric power. These would replace batteries in wireless electronic devices.

Ñ Mary Bellotti