Furry wetsuits: scientists learned how to trap air between the mammals' hair and skin | Photo: Frankel/Creative Commons

Would you wear a furry wetsuit? Engineers from the MIT started producing fur-like rubbery pelts inspired by hairy, semiaquatic mammals. The good news is that it works very well.

The future of wetsuits is now, as new manufacturing techniques and new fabrics pave the way to advanced thermal properties.

The MIT research was motivated by a visit to Sheico Group, the world's largest wetsuit manufacturer. The company was interested in developing materials that would keep surfers warm and nimble while they move in and out of the water.

"We started looking at animals that are small and agile, but have to survive in Arctic movements, and spend part of their time underwater and part of their time on land," explains Annette Hosoi, professor and team leader at MIT's Sports Technology and Education program.

The team of scientists believes that rubbery hair-lined wetsuits are the perfect solution for wave riders because surfers are frequently exposed to air and water environments, for example, while waiting for the waves and duck diving.

"We're trying to understand what parameters of their fur, how fast they're diving, the properties of the liquid, and how do these all come together to inform us how the air gets entrained," adds Alice Nasto, a graduate student at MIT.

After several experimentations, the MIT group understood which designs will trap air, and how hair density and length work together to keep mammals warm while diving at certain speeds.

Thick neoprene rubber could have its days numbered. In the future of surfing, wetsuits will be made of an air-insulated lightweight material featuring a hairy texture. And cold water surfing will no longer be a problem.

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