A team of volcanologists at the University of Missouri turned fashion models recently as they showed off prototype lava suits that are designed as comfortable, hard-wearing field outfits for scientists bound for the slopes of Vesuvius and the like. Made from lightweight fabric interwoven with Kevlar strips, the new suits are flame-resistant, anti-abrasive, durable, and have plenty of pockets.

Volcanoes are one of nature's most dramatic phenomena. One can grow in a matter of weeks, sit dormant for centuries, or explode with a force so violent that it can be heard thousands of miles away. Add in the flows of molten lava, ejection of ash, corrosive dust, and rocks that are as sharp as broken glass and it can all be very hard on one's clothes, with a pair of commercial work trousers lasting less than a season of exploration.

Like many other professions, a common peeve among volcanologists is finding the right field clothes. In this case, ones that are both lightweight and breathable enough to handle the unpleasant heat of a volcano, yet stand up to the rugged environment. They also need lots of pockets to carry small gear and clips for hammers, helmets, and the like.

To help fulfill this wish list, Abby Romine, a graduate student in the Department of Textile and Apparel Management developed a set of prototype suits that are both aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, functional. Working with feedback from Missouri geology students and donated fabric from FirstSpear, a tactical gear company in St. Louis, she came up with four bespoke prototype suits that were tested by Alan Whittington, chair of geological sciences, and his three graduate students.

"We tested them on a week-long field trip in Colorado, and they were the most comfortable field pants I've ever worn," says Whittington. "I've been into outdoor gear since the 1980s. People want to buy gear that is expedition-level engineered, so I can see this as a good marketing opportunity beyond just volcanologists. If I had to choose between a commercial brand of work pants and these pants, I would pick these every time."

According to Romaine, the next step will be to provide her design to FirstSpear for production.

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