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Polar Bears Inspire The Development of New Ultra-Thin Insulating Material


A World Wildlife Fund photograph taken along the western shore of Hudson Bay shows a female polar bear with two cubs near ChurchillOne of the key ways to achieve maximum energy efficiency of your house is good insulation, this is a well-known fact. But it is a common misconception that a good layer of insulating material should always be thick and bulky and it would take quite a bit of our available space. A team of scientists from University of Namur, Belgium and University of Hassan I, Morocco, took on the task to uncover the secrets of ultra-thin insulation by studying and mimicking polar bear fur.

The team made a series of computer models and simulations in order to observe how individual hairs in the fur of polar bears backscatter heat. They noted that indeed on one hand backscattering of heat is important, but on the other hand, the more hairs there are, the less energy was lost, due to the colour of the fur.  Using a thermostat, black-bodied shields and grey-bodied shields, the team measured how temperature changes through thermal conduction and radiation.

Opposite to all common believes, the team found that due to higher reflectivity of the grey-bodied shields, the transfer of heat was drastically reduced, especially when more hairs were added. These findings raised the question to why typical building insulation is much thicker, yet much less efficient, when fur of polar bears is many times thinner and much more efficient.

The scientists looked in ways to use their findings not only in building insulation, but also in winter clothing. They believe that by multiplying the interaction of electromagnetic waves with grey bodies, similar to polar bear fur, they would be able to develop a super-efficient and ultra-thin material, which is not transparent and has very low emissivity.

The initial findings of the research can be found in the journal Optic Express.

Image (c) Reuters

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