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VCU Start-Up Creates Protective Clothing for Mothers-to-be

Virginia Commonwealth University

Cell phones are everywhere. About 7 billion of them are in use worldwide, but concerns remain about the safety of the electromagnetic fields they produce. That’s why two students and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University are launching a business to protect pregnant women, their babies and anyone else who’s worried about exposure.

No one knows if cell phone signals pose any risk to babies in utero, but Umar Hasni – a graduate student in Electrical Engineering -- cites animal research linking electromagnetic radiation to attention deficit disorder.

“A study at Yale that took a batch of pregnant mice and exposed them to normal cellular radiation, and what they found is that the baby mice born out of this experiment, compared to the control group, had reduced memory, they had other cognitive defects," Hasni says. "They developed ADD and ADHD.”

So, working with Professor Erdem Topsakal, he’s developed a simple technology weaving an effective shield into fabric.

The patent is pending, so Hasni won’t explain exactly how it works, but he compares it to a familiar protective system used on microwave ovens.

“In front of your microwave there’s always like this little sheet with tiny little circles and everything. That’s a filter," Hasni says. "It prevents any EM radiation from your microwave to come out and affect you.”

Margaret Karles, a grad student in business, says the marketing message for what they’re calling Tiny Tech is as simple as the technology.

“We’re basically saying tech is with us. We can’t go back to the dark ages. Nobody would want to go back to the dark ages including us, but to continue moving forward with technology safely, out tech allows you to do that,” says Karles.

It might not be needed now, but Hasni sees a growing market as the nation moves to more powerful cellular networks, going from 4G to 5.

“The jump that we had between 3G and 4G wasn’t that much, but this jump is going to be much higher, so you’re going to be bombarded with far more radiation than you normally would,” Hasni says.

The VCU team has won several prizes for their concept, amassing $24,000 in seed money to design and test Tiny Tech. Topsakal says they’ll wash garments a hundred times to make sure they still work and are comfortable.

They plan to begin selling to pregnant women – a market of about 4 million people – next summer, and hope to license the technology to other clothing manufacturers in 2018. 

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