Lauderdale County farmer and inventor John Locker has been called Elvis, Michael Jackson and even George Jetson by those who see him wearing his glittering, hooded jacket. But the energetic entrepreneur doesn’t let the good-hearted jabs bother him. That’s because, underneath the space-age garment, Locker feels 10 degrees cooler than his hecklers.Known simply as a “Chiller,” Locker’s patent-pending design is made of a plastic-coated, aluminum mesh that was first used as a sunscreen in desert greenhouses. Locker, however, didn’t initially envision the material as a fabric for clothing. He was simply trying to help a frustrated customer solve a problem.For years, Locker has marketed durable covers he invented to protect hay from the elements (HayGuard) as well as covers that protect golf course greens from freeze damage. It was during a sales trip for green covers that Locker first considered the potential benefits of a lightweight, highly reflective breathable fabric.”I was talking to a golf course superintendent about buying green covers to protect his greens from freeze damage. He said ‘no,’ but he said ‘if you come up with a way to cool my bent grass greens in the summer, you’ll be a millionaire,'” Locker recalled.Locker accepted the challenge and in 2003 adapted the greenhouse fabric for use on golf courses. He sold four covers to Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, and began talking to turfgrass specialists at Auburn University about using the material in a research project.After a meeting at Auburn, Locker–who’s always on the lookout for new marketing opportunities–got the idea of using the aluminum mesh to make clothing.”After I left Auburn, I was on my way to south Alabama when I got stopped on a two-lane paving project,” Locker recalled. “There was a young flagman standing there who was cooked.”A few miles down the road, Locker began thinking how much cooler the man would have been, if he had a swatch of the reflective material to drape over his head. When he returned home, Locker described the idea to his sister, and she sewed the prototype “Chiller.”After wearing the hooded jacket for a year, Locker is convinced his “Chiller” provides protection from the sun and makes those who wear one feel considerably cooler. These claims aren’t without merit. Thanks to Auburn University’s nationally recognized Thermal Lab, Locker has scientific evidence to back up many of his statements.Thermal Lab Director Dr. David Pascoe was introduced to Locker and his strange-looking invention last summer. Dr. Beth Guertal of AU’s Horticulture Department already was planning to test the Chiller material on turfgrass, but Locker was interested in gauging the fabric’s effects on human subjects. Locker and Guertal found the perfect proving ground for the Chiller in Pascoe’s lab inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.In the lab, Pascoe and graduate student JohnEric Smith use human subjects to test athletic clothing, firefighting turnout gear and other materials which help the body manage heat and moisture. The results of the tests with the Chiller were “phenomenal,” said Pascoe. “It compares favorably to other materials; it’s performed extremely well.”Specifically, Pascoe measured the core temperature, skin temperature, water loss and thermal sensation (perceived temperature) of the test subjects. The AU Thermal Lab also is one of a few–if not the only–such labs in the country that uses infrared imaging to get a snapshot of the effects of heat and sunlight on the human body.”We have found that it (the Chiller) blocks 50 percent of the radiant heat,” Pascoe said. “The aluminum dissipates the heat much like a radiator (on a car). We’ve had a lot of fun with the material, but it’s counter-intuitive–you put it on to keep cool.”Pascoe found the effectiveness of the Chiller increased dramatically when the garment was dipped in water and when the subject was in a windy environment. Locker believes one reason people feel cooler when wearing the Chiller is the turbulent air flow that’s created between the skin and the jacket when wind passes through the aluminum mesh.”In all cases, the subjects perceived the wet jacket as being cooler,” Pascoe said. “They also lost about half the amount of water through sweating. That’s a huge benefit because we know that as little as 2 percent dehydration can impair a person’s ability to perform mentally and physically.”The researcher was so impressed with the lightweight jacket that he made it available to AU football players during practice last year. He and Locker also are planning to cover the roof of Pascoe’s house in the reflective material.Locker is talking with scientists at the University of Alabama Birmingham where he wants to test the product with patients who have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the ill effects of sunlight and heat. In addition, he’s working with another group of AU researchers to test the material as a cooling blanket for horses. Meanwhile, Guertal is conducting a long-term test on the use of aluminum mesh to protect golf greens.”John came to me to see if we could use it to cool bent grass greens in the summer,” Guertal said. “One of my first thoughts was that we can’t have (the covers) lying out there when golfers are out there.” With that in mind, Guertal came up with treatment options that would allow superintendents to cover damaged greens when golf courses are less crowded. For one treatment, the grass is covered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. one day a week. On another test plot, the turf is covered three hours a day for five days a week. Guertal is using heat sensors at the soil level to test the effectiveness of the covers and hopes to have preliminary results later this year.”It’s sturdy and lightweight, and if we can prove that it works, superintendents should be able to fit it into their systems easily,” Guertal said.As for the dazzling jackets, Locker said there is a huge market, if people don’t get sidetracked by the Chiller’s appearance.”Every person in the world needs one,” Locker said. “Farmers are notorious for wearing baseball caps that don’t protect their necks from sun. Hikers, fishermen, athletes and gardeners are all at increased risk for skin cancer. The biggest problem is getting people to try it on.”To learn more, visit www.xtoninc.com or call 1-800-786-2091.