MIT looks to beavers for new wetsuit material design

Get ready for furry surfers: MIT engineers have created “fur-like, rubbery pelts” that mimic the insulating behaviors exhibited by beavers. The new design could pave the way for more effective wetsuits, which can insulate human bodies in cold water, but also quickly dry off for time spent up in the air.

The concept of a warm, dry wetsuit is a surfer’s perfect dream (besides hanging the tennest 10 while riding the ultimate wave — why yes, I am a pro surfer, how did you know?), but current materials are less than optimal about keeping the balance between warm in water and dry on the board. Some animals, like whales, have a thick layer of fat to protect them from the underwater elements, but humans lack that capacity.

That’s why researchers looked to another relatively lean mammal, the beaver, for bio-inspiration, studying how the individual follicles of its fur trap air when it takes the plunge. Beavers retain bubbles in their pelts in order to provide a layer of protection against the frigid temperatures in cold lake water. Researchers found that there was a direct and replicable relationship between the spacing between hairs, the speed with which the hairy surface entered the water and how much air was trapped, theoretically letting them identify exactly the right mix for creating a wetsuit that will work best for surfers entering the water.

The result of their research could then be a wetsuit that’s not overwhelmingly hairy, but that can still give surfers all the benefits of being a beaver, provided the research leads to eventual commercialization of the tech involved.