January 21, 2014

Peer Review: Student Team Engineers Stress Relief Vest

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Ever need a hug or a backrub, but it’s 2am and you’re in the Cocktail Lounge alone? A team of Cornell students made up of Hadi Hosseinzadegan grad, Marina Gaeta ’14 and Eric Beaudette ’16, have combined science and apparel in one trendy garment that can mimic human touch.

Under the guidance of Prof. Amit Lal, electrical and computer engineering, and Prof. Huiju Park, fiber science and apparel design, Hosseinzadegan, a grad student in electrical and computer engineering, Gaeta, a biology major, and Beaudette, who majors in fiber science and apparel design, have built an award-winning prototype. The vest not only relieves stress – it’s comfortable and modern too.

Lal’s previous work on the physical sensation of human touch brought the project to Cornell. Scientists originally sent the idea to Medingen Group, a corporation in Rochester, New York, through Cornell’s Center for Materials Research. Lal researched the sensation of touching skin down to the ridges of a person’s fingertips and the sensation of feeling touch.

According to Lal, the very ridges of a fingerprint create sensations in the skin that correspond to the velocity of a normal physical touch. The sensation of performing and receiving these physical reactions are coordinated with one another in the human nervous system. Lal’s intricate programming of the piezoelectric actuators–the electrical components of the vest–create the personalized sensation that is best tuned with a person’s receptors.

Every person has a different range of sensations that the nerves in their skin respond to, so creating the perfect sensation was important.

“It’s possible that the vibration sensors in our skin are attuned to listening to the touching sensation of a finger running through the skin,” Lal said. Studies show human touch can lower cortisol levels, resulting in stress relief. Cortisol, a stress-hormone and subject of many recent health studies, can be linked to a wide array of human diseases ranging from depression to heart disease, according to researchers. By replicating human touch, the team seeks to stimulate similar drops in cortisol levels by simulating human touch for the vest’s wearers.

Connor Archard / Sun Senior PhotographerSimulated sensations | Studies have shown that human touch can lower stress levels. Marina Gaeta ’14 and Eri Beaudette ’16 seek the same results from high-tech clothing that will mimic the feeling of human contact.