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Conventional wetsuits for cold water are made of neoprene, a type of clothing designed to have tiny trapped bubbles of gas within it. Since gas has low thermal conductivity, it works to keep the user warm while in cold water. The question is, how cold can the water be, and for how long will the user stay warm? According to Professor Jacopo Buongiorno who works in the nuclear engineering department at MIT, conventional wetsuits will do the job in very cold waters, but only for about 20 minutes.

With this limitation in mind, he wanted to help design a wetsuit that would feel as lightweight as a conventional wetsuit—so as not to limit motion or flexibility—but also offer far superior thermal insulating properties that would allow people to perform tasks for extended periods of time in very cold waters. In accomplishing this, inspiration has been drawn from the anatomy and physiology of animals that make cold waters their home.

Professor Buongiorno joins the podcast today to discuss three ways that different animals keep warm in cold waters, the technology behind the wetsuit he’s helped create, and the science behind it all.

Press play to hear the full conversation.

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