Beaver-Inspired Wetsuits


Ever wanted to feel like a beaver while going for a dive in the ocean? Well, now you have the opportunity to do this with the beaver-inspired wetsuits that researchers at MIT have developed. MIT engineers have studied nature’s finest aquatic creatures, beaver’s and sea otters, to develop a textile that will support and innovate the design of wetsuits. Typically, wetsuits have insulation with thick neoprene rubber. The new textile that is developed by MIT researchers is lightweight and has thermal properties. The goal of this project was to keep divers warm in water while also keeping them dry.

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The idea of creating newer and better wetsuits was inspired by a visit to a company that develops wetsuits. The company’s goal was to produce a textile that kept surfers warm and light when going in and out of the water. Researchers at MIT developed this idea by looking at biological systems of animals that are small and agile, but that survive in cold environments. Also, the animals must spend part of their time in water and part of their time on land. Beavers accomplish this by having a specialized fur that traps air when they dive into the water.

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With this information, MIT researchers began to study the wet parameters of hair, how fast the aquatic mammals are diving, and the properties of the liquid which show how the air entrains itself. The researchers tested this by plunging a soft casting rubber into liquids that had varying viscosities and speeds. Next, video recordings of the dive were studied to see the amount of trapped air at varying speeds and the spacing of hairs during each plunge. By having air as its primary insulator, it ensures that the product was lightweight and warm by having air as its insulator.

The future for textiles is bright. Due to increased knowledge of manufacturing techniques and new materials, it will enable us to change the way we wear our clothes in the next 5-10 years. We will soon have the ability to maximize on clothing that have thermal properties and that have tailored sensors which will increase the versatility of what we wear and how we wear it.




About matte184

Student @ University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

One comment

  1. nrburson

    Noah Burson | Reply #2

    The biomimicry in this material is innovative in itself. If this material can act in the way a beaver’s coat can, it is interesting to think about what the applications of it could be. Since it is modeled from the evolution of an animal, an obvious application for the material is for use in cold water and air; the same environment that a beaver lives in. As you, the author, talk about, this has been what is sought after from the company sponsoring this to develop wetsuits.

    Now think of applying this material, a product of the biology of a beaver with the function of keeping the mammal dry, to a building. Could it fit in to supply a function that has a demand for building environments? Insulation is something that is always being pushed forward for efficiency and effectiveness. This material engineered by MIT can keep a body warm by being applied as a wetsuit. Would this be an effective façade building material? My first notion is no because the ability for the material to trap and release air based on the submergence of water is not a function that can support a building.

    However, I think in the field of design it is important to ask these questions that we preconceive as being useless connections. A way of developing innovation is to dive deeper into the application of a material, more specifically the way it functions. It is the job of the architect to move passed the preconceptions of the material to look at it through a lens that opens new opportunities for material application.

    In the specific case of the material engineered by MIT, the preconception is that is can only be used to protect over skin. We don’t know where else it can be applied because it takes that exploration by innovators and designers in order to discover. Perhaps it could be a lower cost alternative to a material that is typically used, or could be applied to enhance any of the systems humans have created and developed.

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