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This New Otter-Inspired Material May Change Wetsuit Design Forever

Putting on a wetsuit is a pain. But taking it off when it’s soaking wet and heavy with water is just plain annoying. This is why a team of MIT engineers have come together to develop a new kind of material that is based on one of the most efficient underwater materials around: otter fur.

Otters have the incredible ability to keep themselves warm in extremely cold water while still being able dry off quickly when they come back to land. Their unique fur allows them to jump in and out of water with ease, something human surfers have been trying to do for years.

The initial inspiration for the project came after visiting a wetsuit company that was looking for new and innovative ways to keep surfers warm in the water, but still have the ability to shed that water when they went back up on the beach. Semi-aquatic animals like otters and beavers seemed like the perfect examples of which to model this new material design.

otter and surfer

“Small mammals that can’t carry around a lot of blubber, but still need to maintain warmth, have very specialized fur that traps air when they dive underwater,” said Anette Hosoi, professor of mechanical engineering, in her demonstration video.

By using lightweight material and fabricating tiny rubber hairs, the MIT team hopes to create something that is able to trap air in a way that is almost identical to the otter’s fur. So far, testing has given very positive results.

The synthesized fur was dipped into multiple kinds of fluids to see how the material responded, where it trapped air, and how much air it trapped. From there, the team can determine how far apart to space the hairs, what kinds of material work best, and what kind of water it will perform properly.

wetsuit material testing

It is extremely important that for the material to work in the real world that it is lightweight and flexible, so there needs to be extensive amounts of testing done.

As Hosoi and her team continue making progress, they come closer and closer to potentially revolutionizing the world of surfing and wetsuit design.

Imagine being able to jump into a freezing cold ocean, staying perfectly warm, extremely mobile, and then when you get back on the beach you are almost completely dry again. It would be an incredible feeling.

See how the project has come along in the video below!

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Andrew Terpstra grew up on Zoobooks and National Park excursions, so the outdoors and wildlife became a big part of his life. Now he is trying to help whomever he can, and the causes he holds dear, with the words he writes.