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7th March 2011, Bönnigheim

Innovative swimsuit offers improved speed

Thanks to the air trapped in the fibres, the swimmer glides through the water as if on a cushion of air. Picture: iStock technotr

Scientists at the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim, Germany, have recently put an innovative swimsuit with a special surface coating through its first practical test in the Soleo indoor pool in Heilbronn. A special coating is said to make the ultra-thin and ultra-lightweight textile material used in the swimsuit, super-hydrophobic, so that water does not make it wet.

According to the Hohenstein scientists, this means that the air trapped between the fibres of the fabric is not forced out and instead forms an ultra-thin, silvery cushion of air which significantly reduces frictional resistance when swimming. The system used in nature by many water birds such as penguins.

Sarah Ziem, herself a competitive swimmer and a student at the University of Reutlingen, developed the prototype as part of her dissertation for her bachelor's degree, which was supervised by Walter Marx. She was also supported by Dr. Jan Beringer of the Hohenstein Institute and by CHT R. Beitlich GmbH and Mectex SpA.

The micro bubble effect is also used by many water birds such as penguins. Diagram: Hohenstein Institute

After the first few trial lengths, Sarah was very enthusiastic: "It has even exceeded our expectations. When it is compared with a standard swimsuit, there are obvious benefits in flow behaviour which are reflected in improved speed." Even after long training sessions, the swimsuit is said to remain completely dry.

According to the Hohenstein Institute, an important factor is that this new development already largely complies with the latest regulations of the international swimming federation FINA. In 2009, FINA passed stricter regulations for high-tech swimsuits, after a wave of new world and European records had been set by swimmers wearing them in the previous year. Consequently, the neck, shoulders and ankles can no longer be covered. The material of the swimsuits must be no thicker than one millimetre and the buoyancy of the material must be not more than one Newton per 100 grams.

Dr. Beringer says that over the next few months the positive effects of the textile coating will be further improved and it will be made ready to be brought to the market: "Perhaps the first swimmers will already be wearing swimsuits 'Powered by Hohenstein' by the time of the 2012 Olympic Games in London."


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