When you climb into your sun-baked car in the shopping mall parking lot and collapse behind the wheel, gasping in a Saharan inferno, it's time for a few squirts from Domingo Tan's handy air-conditioner in a can.
Tan, a Chinese-born physicist who lives in suburban Alexandria, Va., invented Instant Car Kooler, an aerosol spray containing 10% ethyl alochol and 90% water mixed with a mint fragrance.
"Those cardboard windshield "sunglasses" are no competition," Tan says.
To demonstrate, he opened the door of his aging Dodge sedan, which had been parked in the sweltering sun for a couple of hours with a cardboard sunshade in place. A large circular thermometer dangling over the front seat registered 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tan leaned into the car and pointed his can of Instant Car Kooler. "Psst-psst-psst."
Within half a minute, the thermometer had plunged 42 degrees to a more bearable 80 degrees. He said the sunshade alone reduces heat by only 10 to 15 degrees.
Tan, 57, began working on his invention about 10 years ago, when his young son complained frequently about the suffocating heat in the family car.
"From physics, I know that water absorbs plenty of heat. It is a good medium for moderating temperatures," Tan said. "I also thought that when it gets so hot, we pray for rain, and after it rains we know that the temperature drops."
Tan got his idea.
"It's like making rain inside the car, but the difference is that we don't make the whole car wet. Instead of rain there are drops of spray so fine that they vaporize right away," he said.
He also observed a baby's fever is reduced when its body is rubbed with water mixed with alcohol. So Tan added ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, to the car spray to make the water vaporize faster and reduce the air temperature even further.
Born in Fukien, China, and reared in the Philippines, Tan obtained a doctorate in physics from the University of Oregon in 1968, taught college physics in Rochester, N.Y., and did laser research at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington until he entered private business in the 1970s. He and his wife run a jewelry and gift shop in an Alexandria shopping mall.
Tan received a patent for Instant Car Kooler in April, and began marketing the 16-ounce spray cans in mid-August. The retail price is $3.50 each.
In less than three weeks, Tan and his two business partners have received orders for more than 25,000 cans from prospective distributors from New York to Texas, and as far away as Austria and Switzerland.
One exporter wants to ship Instant Car Kooler to the Middle East, where Tan says the heat inside automobiles can soar to 165 degrees or more.
Tan says his son, now a 22-year-old college physics major, is delighted with his father's invention and gives away samples to his friends.
"I'm a very religious person, so I give nature credit for the idea," the elder Tan said in an interview Wednesday.
A devout Roman Catholic, Tan is pleased that he is helping motorists stay cool.
"I try to serve God," he said. "He gave me a mission to do, and I consider this as a gift from God to mankind."