in the workplace

Excellent research: the risks of extreme heat and cold

11 March 2020 • 3 min reading time

What are the risks of heat or cold during physical exertion? This is what Boris Kingma researches and models at TNO. In doing so, he combines physics with human factors and connects different research groups and domains. This has earned him the title of Young Excellent Researcher 2019 at TNO.

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Would you like to know more about Boris’ research into the risks of heat or cold during physical exertion? Please get in touch with him.

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What exactly does your research involve?

“Countless studies are being carried out into the impact of heat, cold and humidity on the human body. From fieldwork with human measurements to mathematical calculations, we’re consolidating the knowledge from all of these studies: capturing it in models that tell us what the safe limits are for exertion in certain weather conditions and with certain clothing or equipment.”

“We make models that tell us what the safe limits are for exertion in certain weather conditions”

“This allows people who undergo physical exertion in extreme weather conditions – such as military personnel or athletes – to make informed decisions when it comes to adapting their training or equipment. Our research also provides knowledge for further innovation. Take, for example, the development of cooling technology in military vests.”

You mention “we”. Who do you work with?

“Within TNO, mainly with people in the Defence, Safety and Security domain. In the Healthy Living domain, we’re additionally investigating the safe limits for working in heat and cold.

I also work closely with Holst Centre in Eindhoven. They’re developing wearable technology there which measures physical risks, such as increased heart rate amongst pilots.”

There is also close cooperation with various departments within the Ministry of Defence and the Police, and we carry out research together with Dutch universities within the ThermoNED network.

What about the international perspective?

“We’re constantly seeking collaborations with international players in the field. For example, I have an appointment at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen and through NATO and EU-projects, such as Cold Weather Operations, HeatShield and ClimApp, we connect to many labs all over the world.

TNO is a player on the frontline, but not the only one. You stay sharp by working together and learning from each other’s findings. The quality of research is always paramount at TNO, even if that means that you need to keep on searching and adapting. Ultimately, this results in sustainable and applicable solutions.”

“The quality of research is always paramount at TNO”

You sound really passionate. What makes this work so interesting for you?

“On the one hand, I work in a niche. On the other hand, heat and cold play a role everywhere – at home, at work or if you’re in the field as a soldier. I can apply my knowledge anywhere. In addition, we combine a great many disciplines: we look at physics questions such as ‘how does heat flow through the body, clothing and equipment?’ and translate that into robotics, cooling vests and measuring systems.

We’ve also launched hittewijzer.nl and koudewijzer.nl. It gave us such a kick to realise how clearly we can express the risks. I really fell in love with my area of research.”

This area of research also seems to be getting more and more relevant.

“Yes, that’s correct, but we shouldn’t see heat and cold as individual parts. Climate change and extreme heat bring with them multiple components, all of which affect people. Air pollution, for example, but also dehydration.

It’s important to look at what this combination does to people and to respond to that, such as with a route planner that calculates the road with the most shade and the least air pollution for you. Innovation can only take a big leap forward if the foundation is solid. And that foundation is science.”

“In the future, I’d like to look even more closely at the real risks of heat and cold for different people"

What does it mean that you’ve been named Young Excellent Researcher 2019 by TNO colleagues for your contribution to that foundation?

“I view it as enormous appreciation for both my own research domain and for the broader research in which ‘human factors’ play a role. If you include human responses as a variable in your research and development system, you know that your final results can also be applied to humans. That’s important to me.

In the future, I’d therefore like to look even more closely at what the real risks of heat and cold are for different people so that people are less likely to ignore too strict or too broad guidelines and run unnecessary risks.”

Boris Kingma has been working at TNO since May 2017 as Scientist Environmental Ergonomics and Biophysics at the Training & Performance Innovations department in Soesterberg.

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