Monday, May 12, 2008

Inventor of the Wetsuit Dies at 92

If you've ever used a wet suit, you owe something to the late Hugh Bradner.

Hugh Bradner, renowned physicist and professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, died 5 May 2008, in San Diego, Calif. after a prolonged illness. He was 92 years old. Bradner's scientific career incorporated both science and ocean exploration to design many notable ocean technologies, including the first neoprene wetsuit. He has been affiliated with Scripps since 1961 and was professor emeritus at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP).

During his distinguished career as a nuclear physicist, Bradner worked at the U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington D.C. and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley. He was also one of the founding scientists of the Los Alamos National Laboratory working on the Manhattan Project and a faculty member at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego. It was at Los Alamos that he met Marjorie Hall, his wife of 65 years.

Bradner had a lifelong passion for the ocean. He enjoyed diving and sailing and was one of the first Americans to make a deep-water SCUBA dive. In 1951, while working at UC Berkeley, he decided to spend some 'weekend time' improving diving equipment for navy frogmen, which began his pioneering research on the wetsuit. Bradner focused on the design of a wetsuit for military underwater swimmers and developed a foam wetsuit using a unicellular material known as neoprene.

'He was an adventurous man who enjoyed travelling,' said Walter Munk, professor emeritus and director of IGPP during Bradner's tenure at Scripps. 'He built a successful career by combining his geophysical work with his South Pacific adventures.'

Bradner collaborated with scientific divers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who were experimenting with the new SCUBA regulator invented by Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan. Scripps divers first tested his wetsuit designs at their SCUBA training classes held in the pool of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

'Brad's neoprene wetsuit was a tremendous contribution to scientific diving,' said James Stewart, professor emeritus at Scripps. 'He was a great guy and a lot of fun to work with.'

Bradner was well regarded for his collaborative approach to science, evident in his reluctance to claim himself as sole inventor of the wetsuit. He continued to consult for the military throughout his scientific career. His other research endeavours led to novel diving equipment, including underwater contact lenses, a single-hose regulator and a decompression meter. Bradner even developed a loop system for quickly extracting U.S. Navy SEALs from the water via inflatable boats.

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