Researchers at MIT have developed a new way to keep scuba divers warm by adding small silicone hairs to wetsuits. Captured by photographer Felice Frankel, the prototype may remind you of the hardy fur found on seals and sea lions – and that is precisely the point.

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Alice Nastro of MIT and her team presented the technology to Boston’s American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics last year, detailing how the tiny rubber “hairs” provide a layer of insulating air between divers and the frigid ocean waters. Performing a sort of experimental, fast-paced evolution, the team worked to see what length and spacing of hairs worked best to trap heat and avoid becoming waterlogged.

Related: Camera-wearing elephant seals aid Antarctic climate change study

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Other factors contributing to seals’ swimming success are also being considered, such as the effects of skin oils on how fur works and how to prevent water from becoming trapped in the fur when crawling out of the sea. Nastro says, “there needs to be work to not only understand how you can stay dry not only while diving into the water, but when you are submerged and at a stand-still. This kind of understanding can be useful for materials for wet suits.” If we continue to take notes from the efficiency of nature, the future may hold a distinctly different type of gear for divers.

Via Popular Science

Images via Felice Frankel, Shutterstock (1,2)