The physics of swimsuits

by Stephanie Chasteen on August 20, 2008

Physics Today just published an article about the weirdo swimsuits we’ve been seeing in the Olympics. I knew there had to be something special about them, because they’re full-body suits. There’d be no reason to cover over the swimmer’s skin unless the suit itself had less drag than skin. Turns out that’s the case. The new suit, the Fastkin LZR Racer from Speedo (which costs $600 and took 4 years to develop, in part by NASA scientists) has extremely low viscous drag. The company claims that it has 5% less drag than previous models, which were based on the denticles on a shark’s skin. Denticles are little structures on the skin that make tiny whirlpools as the shark moves, reducing drag. The new suit does away with that technology, and instead focuses on the regions of the body that are responsible for the highest friction with the water — which turn out to be the chest, head, thighs and groin. The suit squishes those parts to compress them and reduce drag. The final suit isn’t even stitched together with thread — it’s put together wtih ultrasonic acoustic vibrations — however that works!

Read the whole article here as well as several videos of the suit and the process of making it.

And more on the physics of swimming at Physics Buzz.

{ 1 comment }

Rich August 21, 2008 at 10:16 am

Similar reason to why golf balls have dimples 🙂 The surface generates a layer of turbulence which means air is flowing over air, rather than the surface of the swimmer/shark/golf ball.

I knew that undergrad fluid dynamics course would come in handy…

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