Lasers test drag on ‘fastest swimsuit’ ever

U. LEEDS (UK) — A new technique that simulates conditions close to those experienced by elite swimmers was used to test fabric for what is believed to be the fastest swimsuit to ever go on the market.

Researchers at the University of Leeds developed a methodology using lasers and flume tanks contained in a giant black box to accurately measure the speed of fabric through water. They were commissioned by the swimwear company Speedo to assist in the development of its new FASTSKIN3 Racing System swimsuit.

The team spent 18 months testing levels of  fabric drag—the measure of how efficiently fabric moves through water.

Sedimentologist Jeff Peakall and colleagues worked in conjunction with Speedo’s in-house global research and development facility, Aqualab—with elite level athletes and coaches, sports scientists, global hydrodynamics experts and optical engineers around the world also contributing to the extensive product development process.

“We’re really excited because I think we’ve found out that some of the materials are appreciatively faster than anything we’ve seen before, and I’m absolutely confident that this is going to be of great benefit to competitive swimmers,” Peakall says.

The scientists used a powerful recirculating flume to move a large body of water through about 50 fabric samples to simulate the speed of an internationally competitive swimmer.

At the same time, they operated a laser machine—similar to a police speed trap—to measure hundreds of velocity points around each piece of fabric, to detect how the water flow changed over the material.

“The interaction of water with a material is surprisingly complex and ideally you want water to move over it as smoothly as possible, rather than in a chaotic manner where the water is mixing and generating lots of swirls in the flow,” Peakall says.

Computer Generated Imagery, the same 3D scanning technology used in Hollywood films, was then used by Speedo to test how fabrics behaved when worn by people. The scientists also examined how fabric changes over time in order to identify a material that has low fabric drag even after a long period in the water—key for longer distance swimmers.

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