Science Reporting

Heat-retaining material inspired by polar bear fur

Animals have always been a source of inspiration for materials with characteristics of all kinds. Polar bears are no exception. The hairs and fur that covers the body of these animals have always been analyzed in the laboratory in an attempt to artificially recreate the isolation provided by this fur, which also uses the fat below so that the animal can survive cold and harsh environments in the Arctic. A material inspired by the fur of polar bears would in fact be able to block the heat so efficiently as to be a breaking point in all attempts to combat cold and frost.

A group of Chinese researchers, who published their work in the magazine Chem, claims to be inspired by this animal to create a synthetic thermal insulation.

Shu-Hong Yu, professor of chemistry at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) also explains: “The polar bear’s hair has been optimized in an evolutionary way to help prevent heat loss in cold and wet conditions, making it an excellent model for synthetic thermal insulation. By letting the tube aerogel escape from the carbon tubes, we can design a similar elastic and lightweight material that traps heat without degrading significantly over its lifetime.”

But what is the particularity of polar bear hair that makes fur so efficient? The main feature is that, unlike human hair and many other mammals, the hairs of the polar bear are internally empty: they are long cylindrical cores perforated directly in the center and it is precisely this cavity that is responsible for the efficiency of the insulation of the heat of the body that is retained. And as if that were not enough, these hairs also make the fur very water-resistant and generally very elastic, all essential characteristics in the environments in which the polar bear lives.

The material created by Chinese researchers, based on carbon nanotubes, cannot yet be easily produced in series, but the researchers themselves promise to overcome these limits so that it can be used in extreme aerospace applications.