MIT’s Otter-Inspired Wetsuits May Change the Surfing Game

KS_LOGOs2_UnderwaterBeavers and sea otters are known for having this amazing fur that traps air when they dive underwater, helping to keep their little blubber-less bodies warm. This is what inspired MIT engineers to create a fur-like rubbery pelt. They wanted to figure out how these mammals star warm and even dry while diving in and out of icy waters.


The Plan: Make precise, fur-like surfaces of various dimensions, dunk the surfaces in liquid at different speeds, and use video imaging to measure the air that is trapped in the fur during each each dive.

“We are particularly interested in wetsuits for surfing, where the athlete moves frequently between air and water environments,” says Anette (Peko) Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and associate head of the department at MIT. “We can control the length, spacing, and arrangement of hairs, which allows us to design textures to match certain dive speeds and maximize the wetsuit’s dry region.” 

The team at MIT made several molds by laser-cutting thousands of tiny holes in small acrylic blocks. Each mold was altered, varying in size and the spacing of individual hairs. The molds were then filled with a soft casting rubber.

Researchers mounted each hairy piece of rubber and submerged them in silicone oil. They chose oil so they could better observe any air pockets forming.

Results: The team learned that the spacing of individual hairs, and the speed at which they were plunged, played a large role in determining how much air a surface could trap. Surfaces with denser fur, plunged at higher speeds, generally retained more air within the hairs.

So, what does this mean? If you’ve ever worn a wetsuit you know they can be heavy and hard to move around in. Let’s pretend a wetsuit is made out of this fabricated hairy material, using air for insulation instead of soggy rubber. The bio-inspired wetsuit would be lightweight and behave better in water.

Can you imagine? Light, warm, furry wetsuits? I’m in! 🏄

The results were published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. You can view the study here -along with some pretty epic charts, diagrams, and photos. 

krystian science spaceDo you love stories about technology mimicking nature? Me too! Follow me on FacebookTwitter, Medium and Instagram for more epic tech stories + enjoy these popular posts:

MIT’s Otter-Inspired Wetsuits May Change the Surfing Game

Heart Warming Wild Otter Baby Born at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Krystian-Science-Nature-LogoThis baby otter is so cute it will melt your face off. Seriously. The Monterey Bay Aquarium received a big holiday surprise after a pregnant wild sea otter swam into its tide pool and gave birth to the cutest little pup!

Sea Otter Baby - Monterey Bay Aquarium
Sea Otter gives birth to newborn pup in Monterey Bay Aquarium Tide Pool. Photo: Tyson V. Rininger, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Apparently the mom was chilling in and around the Aquarium’s Great Tide Pool for a few days, which isn’t common for healthy otters. She had some of the Aquarium staff concerned by her behavior until she popped out a baby. 😍

The Aquarium considers the otter’s birth to be a conservation success story. Otters were once hunted to near extinction – with just 50 left in all of California by the early 1800’s. But, after legislative protection and a soft spot in the heart of people everywhere for the furry guys, the otter population has rebounded to steady levels – with 3,000 in central California alone.

otter Gif

Sea otters don’t have blubber to keep them warm in the cold water. They have a super thick fur coat instead, which they keep full of air bubbles while grooming for insulation. In the wild, sea otter moms spend a lot of time grooming their babies to keep them warm and buoyant.

Fun Fact: Sea otters have 1 million hairs per square inch—more than any other animal.


Heart Warming Wild Otter Baby Born at Monterey Bay Aquarium

SCIENCE VIDEO ROUNDUP: NASA Bursts Bubbles, Creepy Robot Baby, Caffeine Loving Bees & My New Kitties!


10-17 News Update - Krystian Science

KSTV Weekly Science Wrap-Up

1) NASA Floats Balls of Alka-Seltzer in Space

2) This Creepy Robot Baby Will Haunt Your Dreams

3) Honeybees Love Being Hyped Up on Caffeine

4) Viral Sea Otter Surprise Video


5) Meet My New Kitties – Tux and Frankie Mcallister! 😻


SCIENCE VIDEO ROUNDUP: NASA Bursts Bubbles, Creepy Robot Baby, Caffeine Loving Bees & My New Kitties!

This Adorable Video of a Baby Otter Learning to Swim Will Make Your Day – Maybe Your Week

KS_LOGOs2_UnderwaterBaby otters are a lot of work. But, if its as cute as this little thing, its probably totally worth it! Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has a new resident; an orphaned southern otter pup known as Pup 681. Watch as her handlers try to teach her to swim 🙂 SO FLUFFY!

The tiny newborn was discovered orphaned on a California beach in September. She spent the first four weeks of her life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium trying to survive. Once her health improved, she was moved to Shedd in Chigaco.

As of November, Pup 681 weighed just under 6 pounds and was 23 inches long – and raising her hasn’t been easy! Stranded sea otter pups require extensive round-the-clock care. Six to eight animal care experts work on a rotating schedule in order to provide care and attention 24 hours a day, all week long. During this crucial period, she is taught how to develop certain behaviors, such as grooming, feeding, and foraging, as well as regulating her body temperature and swimming.

 “It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter. Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter,” said Tim Binder, vice president of Animal Collections for Shedd

Hopefully this is a chance for the world to learn a little more about the otter population, which is constantly under attack. According the the Monteray Bay Aquarium, sea otters once thrived from Baja California to the Pacific Northwest of North America through Alaskan and Russian waters and into Japan before hunters nearly exterminated them in the 1700s and 1800s. Shedd Aquarium wants Pup 681 to raise awareness and melt people’s hearts.

“This rescued animal provides an opportunity for us to learn more about the biological and behavioral attributes of this threatened species and to encourage people to preserve and protect them in the wild,” said Binder.

This Adorable Video of a Baby Otter Learning to Swim Will Make Your Day – Maybe Your Week