Few labs across NC State’s campus receive as much attention as Dr. Roger Barker’s Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC). Housed in the College of Textiles on Centennial Campus, T-PACC is the only academic center in the nation that incorporates, in one location, the capabilities to research, test and evaluate the comfort and protective performance of textile materials and garments – from firefighter suits to workout gear.
Throughout the year, Barker opens the laboratory doors to everyone from groups of potential students to journalists at top news outlets to show off the latest “superheroes” in T-PACC’s collection of manikins: models of human bodies used to test a wide range of fabrics.
T-PACC’s claim to fame, PyroMan™, is a fully instrumented, life-sized manikin used to evaluate the performance of thermally protective clothing. Housed in a large fire test chamber, the PyroMan system provides safe, controlled, repeatable exposures to flames.
PyroMan is a highly sophisticated instrument used to study garment and body reaction to intense heat and flames. It is useful in determining the safety and effectiveness of firefighting turnout suits. Sensors on the manikin indicate potential burn injuries to a wearer, as well as burn area and severity.
At T-PACC, researchers also test fabrics used to clothe soldiers fighting overseas. PyroMan is a particularly powerful tool for studying the effects of heat in the sweltering Middle Eastern regions where U.S. forces are engaged.
“Soldiers are telling us that (heat) is really topmost in their minds,” Barker said at a September 2012 showcase of NC State research related to military endeavors. “In our labs, we’re able to simulate every battlefield condition on earth.”
Over the years, PyroMan’s fiery “family” has expanded to include PyroHands™, used to measure the effectiveness of firefighter gloves, and PyroHead™, which helps researchers test the safety of helmets for first responders.
Barker recently announced that the family is expanding with the development of RadMan™, which will help researchers evaluate the radiant heat exposure that wildfire firefighters combat.
But there is more to T-PACC than just fire protection. The sweating manikin is used to evaluate clothing for heat and moisture management related to garment insulation and breathability. And the Man In Simulant Test (MIST) Lab allows researchers to test protective apparel for its ability to withstand hazardous materials.
This one-of-a-kind lab has been equipping real-life superheroes since 1994 and continues to push out life-saving research year after year.