The goal is to create a synthetic material to make a lightweight wetsuit
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 11 October, 2016 - Did you know your current state-of-the-art wetsuit is inspired by the insulation mechanics of a fat seal? Functional yes, but also heavy. However if current MIT research proves correct, your next wetsuit may be inspired by the (relatively) lightweight fur of beavers and otters. Cool.
A team of MIT engineers have taken to exploring a range of materials covered with fine hairs that trap air, in the same way the pelts of beavers and otters trap air, to keep the critters warm.
Traditional neoprene on wetsuits works by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin where the body warms it and the neoprene keeps that warm water close against the body. This principle works on the theory that thicker material insulates better.
But MIT has been smitten by the small water mammals who are able to stay warm in arctic conditions without that thick layer of fat.
According to MIT News the goal is to create a synthetic material modeled after otter pelts to make a lightweight wetsuit that won’t require the thickness of today’s suits.
New insulation fabric © MIT/Melanie Gonick
"Surfers want to be nimble and shed water as quickly as possible when out of the water, but retain the thermal management properties to stay warm when they are submerged,” says Anette Hosoi, professor of mechanical engineering, on the MIT project page.
To make the new wetsuit engineers perforated special material with thousands of holes and then anchored little hairs in them. The spacing and positioning mimicked the fur of otters and beavers and was mapped out by a computer.
The new test material was then lowered into special tanks of liquid. Video imaging systems then mapped all the air pockets in the material so engineers could apply this information to how many holes and hairs would be needed for specific conditions.
“From this data, the researchers developed a mathematical model for future designs,” said MIT News. “The team can now accurately predict how thick an air layer will surround a hairy surface, based on their equation.”
The next step is for the material to be cut into suits and actually tested. We’ll keep you posted.