A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a beaver-inspired material that can be make scuba diving wetsuits a lot warmer. Researchers explained beavers’ fur keep them warm because it can trap air which acts like an insulator when the animals get into water.
The MIT team developed a fur-like material that drew inspiration from the small mammals’ coats. Scientists believe the material can keep surfers and scuba divers warm and help wetsuits dry off in no time.
Prof. Anette (Peko) Hosoi, a mechanical engineer at MIT, explained the team initially focused on designing a material for surfers. Hosoi pointed out that unlike divers, surfers go in and out water more often.
So, this is the perfect occasion for researchers to test the new wetsuit. According to the team, just like beavers, surfers move often between water and air. So, they will benefit the most from the new material which needs to be immersed in water to insulate a body.
The New Material
Engineers said they can adjust the arrangement and lengths of hairs on the material to develop the perfect texture for a diver’s or surfer’s needs depending on their dive speeds.
Conventional wetsuits are made of a synthetic rubber material whose thickness influences the level of warmth. But Hosio team thought that a wetsuit inspired from nature with a touch of sustainability would make a better solution.
The team promise their material can keep surfers and divers warm both in and out of water. Additionally, it can help surfers dry off more easily. Researchers had to pick between a sea-otter-inspired material and a beaver-inspired one. And the beaver won.
With help from slow motion camera, researchers analyzed various textures of their material while they plunged them in liquid. The videos showed how effective a specific texture was in trapping air during each dive.
Engineers used computers to calculate the spacing and length of hairs for each texture. They used a vertical automated stage to test the artificial pelts with hair facing downward.
The team tested the material in silicon oil because it makes trapped air bubbles more visible to the human eye. Experiments revealed that the denser the fur and the higher the speed, the more effective the pelts were.
Hair Density is the Key
The extra layer of air in their coats, help beavers stay warm in extreme temperatures even when they get wet. MIT researchers were able to find the right combination of hair spacing and dive speed to create the best material for divers and surfers.
Hosoi noted biologists have known the semi-aquatic creatures’ fur trapped air to keep them warm for years. But they were unable to say whether a specific fur would trap air or not.
The MIT team’s calculations, however, revealed what type of hair density you need to stay warm at a specific dive speed. This is especially important because the new suit doesn’t have to resemble the Cookie Monster, in Hosoi’s own words, to keep divers warm.
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