How to

11 October 2016

MIT Are Studying Beaver and Otter Fur to Create Lighter, More Insulating Wetsuits

As everyone knows, the first insulating coats were made from animal hides, and later from sheep wool. We had to learn a great deal from these animals before we were finally able to create more effective, synthetic materials. As science advances, more methods emerge for basically copying animal physiology, such as the recent, more streamlined Sharkskin wetsuits.

In the same vein, MIT are now working on wetsuits which take inspiration from the dense, air trapping fur which some mammals, like beavers have evolved to help them keep warm underwater. Beavers and otters don’t have the layers of blubber which other aquatic mammals rely on, so they’ve had to adapt their fur for warmth and dryness far more than, say, seals.  

Img source: YouTube / MIT
MIT have been able to replicate this effect with a kind of rubbery substance, moulding it into a fibrous, furry texture which traps warm air in much the same way. They casted pelts of various densities and then used video imaging to see how they reacted when plunged into fluids of different viscosities at different speeds.

Using this design, they’ve been able to start work on a wetsuit fabric made from air fur insulation, rather than neoprene, which will certainly be more lightweight, and probably keep the wearer much drier. Developments like these could also potentially cut down on the manufacturing costs for wetsuits, making the market more accessible.

This is all a ways off though, there isn’t even a prototype yet, and it’ll be a while before the research and development hits that stage, but this is a project that’s well worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully, we’ll eventually be able to get lightweight wetsuits which insulate well enough to push the tolerance limit before you need a dry suit into colder waters, making it easier for divers and surfers alike to venture into the colder climates.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.