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ONR develops wetsuit to increase navy dive time

11th September 2018 - 11:30 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) is sponsoring work to design a wetsuit that replicates the insulating properties of animal blubber—allowing divers to swim in frozen waters for longer periods of time.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a wetsuit infused with an artificial blubber layer that can triple the endurance time of divers in frozen lakes, rivers or oceans.

The project focuses on neoprene wetsuits. Neoprene is the most common material used to make wetsuits, and is a synthetic rubber resembling a thick foam with numerous air pockets. These pockets slow the transfer of heat from the body into the surrounding cold water.

The researchers found that by substituting air with various heavy inert gasses – which are non-toxic, do not have negative chemical reactions, and do not burn or explode – they created a more efficient, artificial blubber layer within the wetsuit. This increased suit effectiveness in 10° Celsius water from under an hour to multiple hours.

To check this capability, they placed a neoprene wetsuit in a sealed, specially designed tank the size of a beer keg and pumped the container with heavy inert gasses for several hours. 

Laboratory tests showed the newly pressurised wetsuit kept its insulating properties for over 20 hours after treatment. Laboratory tests and simulations have been successfully completed and the researchers will now test the wetsuit further during in-water demonstrations involving the navy and civilian divers.

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