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This Swimsuit Is Made Out of Pollutant-Absorbing Supermaterial

So you can clean the sea as you swim.
October 15, 2015, 10:00am
The Sponge Suit. Image: Eray Carbajo

Swimsuits of the future could turn swimmers into eco-warriors. Why? Thanks to a smart material that absorbs pollutants from the ocean as you swim.

Engineers at the University of California made the "Sponge Suit," which won first place at the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition, and is set to be showcased at the Maker Faire in Rome on October 16.

The team of engineers at Riverside began working on their wonder material four years ago. They initially intended to use it for cleaning up oil and chemical spills and desalinating water, and envisioned that the water-repellent aspect of the material could come in handy when applied to airplanes, satellites, as well as electromagnetic shields on unmanned aircraft.

The researchers initially made the bikini's reusable base material, which they dubbed "Sponge," then collaborated with design firms in New York and Istanbul to make the swimwear.

The suit is composed of two parts. The mesh-like white surface is made of 3D-printed elasto plastic, while the filler material (Sponge) is a super-hydrophobic carbon-based material, which absorbs harmful chemicals from the sea but repels water.


"Our sponge material dislikes water and it loves oil-like contaminants such as bio-oil, mineral-oil, body oil, plant oil, petroleum, and motor oil," Mihri Ozkan, one of the wonder material makers and professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, told me.

Image: Eray Carbajo

Ozkan explained that the Sponge suit trapped these contaminants within the inner pores of the swimsuit's material without bringing them into contact with the wearer's skin.

According to Reshape's website, the material is so absorbent that it is can suck up to 25 times its own weight depending on the density of what it's absorbing. It also doesn't release the contaminants that it has absorbed unless it's heated to temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius—meaning that the swimsuit is also reusable. You can absorb pollutants, heat it up to release the chemicals, then reshape the bikini again (up to 20 times) and you're good to go.

"This is a super material that is not harmful to the environment and very cost effective to produce," said Mihri Ozkan, an electrical engineering professor at UC Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering, in a press statement.

The collaboration with designers in New York and Istanbul led to the production of the Sponge Suit, which can take the shape of everything from bikinis, trunks, swimming caps to wetsuits.