The cover of Spectrum’s Winter 2017 issue zooms in on bio-inspired design. After visiting a Taiwanese wetsuit manufacturer, mechanical engineering and mathematics faculty member Anette (Peko) Hosoi returned to campus convinced that her MIT Sports Technology Research Group could design an innovative, lightweight material to keep divers warm—with MIT’s mascot as a muse.
Hosoi and mechanical engineering graduate student Alice Nasto SM ’13 focused their research on the furry pelts of beavers and sea otters, both of which have a layer of long hairs that traps insulating pockets of air around their bodies when they dive underwater. Nasto created a series of rubbery swatches—using molds she built through the painstaking application of a laser cutter—and the team ran experiments on them to arrive at a mathematical model predicting how much air would get trapped by a given sample. The group published its results in the fall of 2016.
According to Hosoi, “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.” This isn’t the first time, incidentally, Hosoi has turned to marine life for engineering inspiration: she is one of the creators of the RoboClam, a digging device modeled after its aquatic namesake.