Hairy Surfaces Keep Skin Dry

Big animals like whales and sea lions stay warm in cold waters by having thick layers of insulating blubber. But smaller mammals, like beavers and sea otters, have a different mechanism for staying warm – their thick fur traps air near their skin, keeping the cold water at bay. Researchers used flexible, 3D-printed “hairy” surfaces to see how hair density, diving speed, and fluid viscosity affected the amount of air trapped between hairs. This enabled them to build a mathematical model describing the physics, which can now be used to predict, for example, the characteristics needed for a hairy wetsuit that could keep surfers warm in and out of the water. For more on this research check out MIT News’ video, and for a closer look at sea otter fur – not to mention a healthy overdose of pure adorable – check out the video below.  (Photo credit: F. Frankel; video credit: Deep Look; research credit: A. Nasto et al.)

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