Introduction



In science fiction we always seem to find incredible inventions that seem to defy logic and work in fascinating ways. However some of these inventions are much more practical than others. For instance the Stillsuit found within Frank Herbertís Dune is one such device that seems practical, but perhaps not on the scale in which it is implemented. By that I am referring to the size of the system. When Kynes describes how the system works he more or less says this: "It's basically a micro-sandwich ó a high-efficiency filter and heat-exchange system. The skin-contact layer's porous. Perspiration passes through it, having cooled the body ... near-normal evaporation process. The next two layers . . . include heat exchange filaments and salt precipitators. Salt's reclaimed. Motions of the body, especially breathing and some osmotic action provide the pumping force. Reclaimed water circulates to catchpockets from which you draw it through this tube in the clip at your neck... Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads. In the open desert, you wear this filter across your face, this tube in the nostrils with these plugs to ensure a tight fit. Breathe in through the mouth filter, out through the nose tube. With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won't lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day..." Now from a scientific standpoint if we analyze what Kynes is saying and describing about the stillsuit we can analyze the different aspects of the suit and reach a conclusion upon their scientific viability on the scale of a suit a person wears. The stillsuitís main benefits/abilities are water reclamation, salt reclamation, and finally heat exchange in order to keep the wearer of the suit from dying from heat exhaustion. Each of these points will be analyzed and the current scientific practicality of the Stillsuit will then be determined.

Water Reclamation



The first thing that I want to do is to compare and contrast some of the features of the stillsuit with modern water reclamation technology. Space shuttle Endeavour is carrying two refrigerator-sized racks packed with a distiller and an assortment of filters designed to process astronautsí urine and sweat into clean drinking water (NASA). This right here is the first metaphorical nail in the coffin for our beloved stillsuits because there is simply no way to cram two refrigerator sized racks of technology into a suit that somebody could wear. However, that may only be due to our current technology, and as is often seen in the world today technology shrinks at an amazing rate. The article goes on to explain that the system is capable of recovering nearly 93% of the water that it receives. This is a high figure for sure, but certainly seems less impressive than losing a thimbleful of water a day now doesnít it? But wait, how is NASA even reclaiming water in space to begin with? As we all know we take gravity for granted, and many things that work normally on earth just donít work in space the same way due to the loss of gravity. One of the most common ways to purify water for the purpose of reclamation is to boil it. When water is boiled on earth it releases steam and the sediments and impurities in the water fall out of the steam while the steam is collected through a series of pipes and eventually allowed to condense back into pure water. This process works very similar in space though according to NASA. In order to get the sediments and impurities to get out of the steam they have to spin the container in which they boil water. This creates an artificial gravity field that pulls out all the impurities and makes them settle on the edges of the container while the steam gathers in the center of the container and is eventually pumped out and allowed to condense back into water. The main difference here is that the stillsuit, at least I believe it is implied by the information we are given, uses a process of reverse osmosis that allows it filter the impurities out. The issue with using reverse osmosis is that it takes a lot of space to do it efficiently, so unless we can refine the system to the point where we can put it inside a suit and cram it on a person I do not see it being possible to make the stillsuits so adept at reclaiming water for a number of years to come. For a brief explanation of reverse osmosis please watch the video below.

Salt reclamation



Salt is a very important mineral for life. Over at Leaflady.org an article was written about why salt is so crucial for human life. The Author of the article is named Gayle Eversole. She has an MH, PhD, RNP, and AHG. She is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and has more than twenty-five years as a nurse practitioner. I canít find anyone else more qualified to talk about the health benefits of salt in humans. Sodium is needed to maintain proper water balance in your body. It also contributes to the process which supports acid / base (pH) balance in your blood. In order to function properly, the stomach, muscles and nerves require sodium. Salt in our bodies is very much like the ionic balance in ocean water. Body solutions of plasma, lymph, and extracellular fluid circulate this balance in our internal ocean. Babies grow in an ocean of salty amniotic fluid. Salt (sodium) is absolutely essential to good digestion. It acts as an alkalinizer to maintain proper pH in the blood. It has a history of use for energizing, detoxifying, and healing. It is used to treat shock, trauma, burns, bleeding, infection, and deep emotional stress. Electrolyte balance in your body is very important to your health. Sodium circulates outside the cells and in proper balance serves to keep potassium inside the cell. If this balance were to reverse all your cells would shrink or explode. This in some simple ways supports the fact that you are an electro-chemical being. (Gayle Eversole) So itís blatantly obvious that the stillsuits ability to reclaim salt from sweat is very important to the survival of people on Arrakis. However, how exactly is the salt extracted you might be wondering? Well I had the same question and it doesnít seem that the novel explains anywhere as to how exactly stillsuit reclaims salt in the first place. Because of this I will assume that the water purification system located within the suit also filters out the salt from the other contaminants in the water. If it is done this way then the process of reverse osmosis is the only way at all that the stillsuit would be able to not only purify water and recover lost salt. But once again because a reverse osmosis station must be very large to be efficient at reclaiming water it seems unlikely that we will see a salt reclamation add-on to this system for use in our stillsuits for a long time to come.

Heat exchange/dissipation



Itís no secret that deserts are hot. In fact there are many, many hot places across the planet. And according to NASA these high temperatures in certain places (temperature in excess of 140 degrees Fahrenheit) occur all across the globe. Using their earth observatory satellite NASA has clocked temperatures in some places that actually exceed 155 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that into perspective the western part of the United States experienced a heat wave back in 2012. The highest temperatures recorded during the ordeal were clocked at only a measly 110 degrees Fahrenheit. A cool summer day by comparison, but nonetheless this extreme heat was enough to cause over eighty-two heat related deaths and left approximately 500,000 individuals without electricity. That means no AC. Can you imagine living in such conditions on a daily basis? The reason I bring up all this information is quite simple really, humans donít function very well in extreme heat. Sweating is our bodyís primary way of cooling down, but when that isnít enough to keep the body cool heat exhaustion begins to set in and eventually death. So if you are living in a desert and water is a sacredly, precious resource youíre going to want to keep as cool as physically possible. And this is where our beloved stillsuit comes to the rescue once again. As Kynes explained in the novel the stillsuit has a heat exchange system. Heat is actually thermal energy by the way, not exactly ďtemperatureĒ which is a measure of thermal radiation. But the issue then becomes the problem that the stillsuits seem to operate on a logical fallacy that violates the laws of thermodynamicsin that heat flows from cold to hot. And because we know the climate on Arrakis is both hot and dry it would seem logical to assume that the surrounding air temperature would be higher than the temperature of oneís own body. And because of this, even with its sweat wicking prowess, the stillsuit just wouldnít be able to cool a person down without some form of work being done on the system. By work being done I mean in the physics concepts of things, work can be applied to a system which can force a colder object to transfer heat into a warmer object. This is known as thermal transfer and this is exactly how your refrigerator works. If the Stillsuit possesses a system which does this then it no longer operates on a logical inconsistency. But seeing as it wasnít explicitly stated that it had a system such as this (unless im totally blind and missed it) I donít see it including one. So I will once again say that because of this the practicality of a working stillsuit is a long way off indeed.

Conclusion



So while we currently have technology that resembles what can be found within a stillsuit this technology is more than likely a long way away from being implemented into a suit that can be worn around. While I severely doubt the implementation of a stillsuit that exactly functions like the one we find in dune I do believe that we can eventually make systems that function very similarly just not as efficiently. Science fiction often paves the way for science fact, just look at star trek for example, but the Stillsuit functioning in all its glory may simply just be science fiction. The only way we can make something like it is if we figure out a way to vastly shrink the amount of space these systems take up. Iím not saying itís impossible, for instance just look at the cell phone in your pocket. That little handheld device that is pervasive throughout all of the world has more computing power than NASA did back in the 1960ís. Let that one sink in.

Sources:



APA: Siceloff, S. Recycling Water is not Just for Earth Anymore. Retrieved from http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/behindscenes/waterrecycler.html

APA: Curtis, R. (1998, march) OA Guide to Water Purification. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/manual/water.shtml

APA: SydneyWaterTV. (2013 October 28) How does reverse osmosis work? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVdWqbpbv_Y

APA: Eversole, G. (1998) Your Body Needs Salt! Retrieved from http://www.leaflady.org/salt98.htm

APA: NASA (2011) What Does It Mean to be Hot? Retrieved from http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/HottestSpot/page2.php

APA: Wikipedia (2015, October 17) Summer 2012 North American Heat wave. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_2012_North_American_heat_wave