Artificial Blubber is a Huge Blessing for Divers

Artificial Blubber is a Huge Blessing for Divers

Engineering Professors from MIT and George Mason University joined forces with the U.S. Navy to come up with a solution that will give divers more time underwater than what they get with their traditional wetsuits.

Swimmers and divers wear Neoprene wetsuits which assist them in surviving underwater. In case of extreme places like ice-covered rivers, the experience becomes incredibly uncomfortable while the survival time of these wetsuits is as little as tens of minutes. This is clearly not enough as a lot of rescue operations carried in different parts of the world require longer durations of time to achieve the desired results.

Similarly, naval forces spend most of their time underwater so improvements in these wetsuits were more of a necessity as Michael Strano, a Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and Jacopo Buongiorno, the Associate Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, toured different facilities of the U.S. Navy. The result of their two-year hard work came in the form of a simple treatment that can increase, by three times, the survival time of conventional wetsuits.

While describing this revolutionary procedure, Buongiorno mentioned that a Neoprene wetsuit is kept inside a beer-keg sized pressure tank for about a day. An inert gas, Xenon or Krypton, is filled in it and the treatment generally lasts for nearly 20 hours. He remarked that it is much longer than what we spend on a dive as he himself participated in a triathlon recently. The process is quite user-friendly as you can perform it in advance to your dive. All you need to do is to place the wetsuit in a sealed bag and unpack it only once you are ready to hit the water.

The research team analyzed all the ways that are adopted by different animals to survive in these frigid waters. They noticed that animals like Whales and Seals have a layer of Insulating Material which reduces the rate of heat loss from the body. Similarly, they found that Penguins and Otters have Air Pockets inside their feathers or fur. Another method which was found in fish and some animals was that they generate massive amounts of Heat internally to cope with the extreme, external climate. After several tests and simulations, a combination of the first two options was used where trapped pockets of gas were assigned to a blubber-like insulating material. The only difference was that the air was replaced by an inert gas.

Most of the wetsuits that are available in the market are made up of Neoprene. This inexpensive material is a mixture of different synthetic rubbers which is processed to produce a closed-cell structure that is quite similar to the Styrofoam. Pockets of air account for more than two-thirds of its volume while half of the heat gets transferred through this channel. The researchers observed that if air is replaced with an inert gas, the insulating capability of the wetsuit increases substantially. On the basis of this property, they claim to have developed a material which has the lowest heat transfer. Strano mentioned that in the following words:

We set a world record for the world’s lowest thermal conductivity wetsuit. It’s like wearing a coat of air.”

Dry Suits are acting as a cold-water alternative to the traditional wetsuits right now but things might change rapidly following the discovery of this amazing technique. In these suits, a layer of air is needed between the skin of the diver and the suit. A hose and a pump are used for this purpose. Similarly, Warm-water suits are used which also offers the same working mechanism. In case of a cut in the suit or the malfunctioning of the pump, the entire insulation system fails which poses a fatal threat to the diver within minutes. As these risks are not attached with these inert gas-infused wetsuits, there are no risks with it as Strano said,

We can take anyone’s neoprene wetsuit and pressurize it with xenon for high-performance operations.”

As these wetsuits can be used by anyone in the cold water, a lot of athletes will be interested in it. That’s the reason why efforts are being made to reduce the thickness of this suit as it will add comfort and the ease of movement to the users. The researchers have also set their goals on developing a stable version of a Xenon-infused Neoprene. In light of all this, one thing that can be said with authority is that humanity is on the right path to explore the depth of different water bodies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *