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Flumes and lasers test elite sportswear

Fabric used to make what is believed to be the fastest swimsuit to ever go on the market was tested by Leeds researchers who simulated conditions close to those experienced by elite swimmers.

A team led by Sedimentologist Professor Jeff Peakall 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 swimwear company Speedo to assist in the development of its new FASTSKIN3 Racing System™ swimsuit.

Professor Peakall and colleagues Professor Dan Parsons (now at the University of Hull), Dr Gareth Keevil and Russ Dixon spent 18 months testing levels of "fabric drag" - the measure of how efficiently fabric moves through water.

The project saw Professor Peakall and Professor Parsons work 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.

Professor Peakall said: "We're really excited because I think we've found out that some of the materials are appreciably faster than anything we've seen before, and I'm absolutely confident that this is going to be of great benefit to competitive swimmers."

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.

Professor Peakall said: "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."

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.

More information

On February 13, the University will host a talk by Dr Tom Waller, head of Speedo's Aqualab, who is responsible for designing and producing swimwear to be used at the London 2012 Olympic Games. This is part of a series of free public lectures the University is  running until March 12. Registration details and more info here: http://sport.leeds.ac.uk/page.asp?section=297&sectionTitle=Celebrating+the+Games+2012

For an interview with Professor Peakall please contact Esther Harward at the University of Leeds press office T: 0113 343 3496 E: e.harward@leeds.ac.uk

The scientists tested the fabric at the University of Leeds' Sorby Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, the national centre for research into environmental fluid dynamics.

Professor Jeff Peakall is a Reader in Process Sedimentology at the School of Earth and Environment. He specialises in research into fluids and particles in the deep sea with relevance to oil companies and nuclear waste management. He recently won an Institute of Chemical Engineering award for his work with Sellafield Ltd.

The School of Earth and Environment (SEE) was ranked second nationally in terms of research power in earth and environmental sciences in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The school is at the forefront in tackling global issues such as climate change, energy, water and sustainable development. Its research is organised across four institutes and two national research centres. www.see.leeds.ac.uk

The RAE showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk

About Speedo®
The world's leading swimwear brand, Speedo® is passionate about life in and around the water, creating revolutionary new technologies, designs and innovations. Supporting swimming from grass-roots through to elite level, including the phenomenal Michael Phelps. In the 1920s Speedo® made history with the Racerback: the world's first non-wool suit. In 2008 Speedo® redefined swimwear again with Fastskin® LZR RACER® - the fastest and most technologically advanced swimsuit ever created. Speedo® is owned by Speedo Holdings B.V and distributed in over 170 countries around the world; to find out more visit: www.speedo.com. SPEEDO, the ARROW device, FASTSKIN, AQUALAB and LZR RACER are registered trademarks of Speedo Holdings B.V. Racing System is a trademark of Speedo Holdings B.V.  The LZR RACER suit has worldwide design rights and patents. The FASTSKIN3 cap, goggle and suit has worldwide design rights and patents pending.