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Sharkskin Swimsuits

The LZR Racer on display in summer 2008

Image courtesy Kazuhisa Otsubo/Cytech(licensed under CC BY 2.0 license)

Want to swim like a shark? Then you have to have skin like a shark. That seems impossible, but if you don a high-tech bodysuit, like the LZR Racer from Speedo, then you're a step closer. The suit uses polyurethane panels to trap air and compress the body to increase buoyancy suit and reduce drag. But that's just the beginning. The fabric of the LZR Racer is coated with hydrophobic nanoparticles that actually repel water and decrease friction along the swimmer's body. After such bodysuits were introduced just before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, competitive swimmers went on to break many world records, leading to their eventual ban in the London 2012 Olympics [source: Dorey].

Eventually, even better suits may be possible -- and they may look more and more like real shark scales, which are ribbed with longitudinal grooves. This rough surface reduces eddy formation along the body of a swimming shark, allowing them to glide through the water like a nearly frictionless missile. Speedo continues to experiment with shark-inspired textures to advance the design of its swimsuits, even if Olympic athletes will never get to wear them in competition. That shouldn't stop you, however, from slipping into a second skin and blowing away the competition in the local pool.

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