Bioinspired athletic swim suits

Seshadri Ramkumar,    Texas Tech University, USA   
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The development of next generation swim suits gets inspiration from beavers. A team of researchers from Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States and visiting scientists from France took inspiration from semiaquatic rodent beavers to derive a mathematical model which could be used to develop swim suits and functional coating processes.

Figure: Semiaquatic beavers keep themselves dry and warm with the help of furs arranged in two forms with guard hairs repelling  water and preventing its penetration to the under layer and the skin.
Figure: Semiaquatic beavers keep themselves dry and warm with the help of furs arranged in two forms with guard hairs repelling water and preventing its penetration to the under layer and the skin.

Beavers keep themselves dry and warm with the help of furs arranged in two forms with guard hairs repelling  water and preventing its penetration to the under layer and the skin. The team endeavored to get greater understanding of the engineering mechanism behind this natural process in beavers.

Not only, the team got the inspiration from nature, the research grew out of an interaction with an international wetsuit maker, Sheico Group.  Professor Anette Hosoi of Mechanical Engineering at MIT lead a team of students to Taiwan and while interacting with Sheico Group was asked about using biomimetic approaches to find solutions to problems in developing future swim suits.

Graduate student Alice Nasto fabricated the beaver fur structure using polydimethysiloxane. These fabricated hair structures were plunged into silicone oil so that video images of trapped air can be obtained clearly. This experiment showed that spacing between hairs and speed of plunging played important roles in determining the amount of air trapped. This led to a mathematical model, which can predict the air layers around furs and hairs.

According to Professor Hosoi, this model will enable designers to know if the fur structure they are designing will trap air or not. Jose Bico of Paris states that understanding air trapping mechanism is also important in industrial coating applications, such as dip coating.

Biomimetic and wearable technologies have potential but their practical applicability and economics aspects need careful study to make commercially successful products.

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