Page 49: of Marine Technology Magazine (May 2008)

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Obituary: Hugh Bradner

Inventor of the Wetsuit

Hugh Bradner, renowned physicist and professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of

Oceanography, UC San Diego, died May 5, 2008, in San Diego, Calif. after a pro- longed illness. He was 92. Bradner's scien- tific 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 wet suit for military underwater swimmers and developed a foam wet suit using a unicellular material known as neoprene. "He was an adventurous man who enjoyed traveling," 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 wet suit designs at their SCUBA training classes held in the pool of the La Jolla Beach and

Tennis Club. "Brad's neoprene wetsuit was a tremen- dous 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 collab- orative approach to science, evident in his reluctance to claim himself as sole inven- tor of the wetsuit. He continued to con- sult for the military throughout his scien- tific career. His other research endeavors led to novel diving equipment, including underwater con- tact 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.

In 1961, Bradner joined Scripps as a research geophysi- cist in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.

He became a professor in 1964. He served as acting provost of UC San Diego's Revelle College during 1966- 1967 and remained at Scripps and UCSD until his retire- ment in 1980. Bradner published exten- sively in the fields of physics, seismology, geophysics and diving. He also was co- author of a monograph on the radulae of the cowrie seashell, thus combining his scientific and recreational interests. He was a member of the DUMAND (Deep

Muon and Neutrino Detection) Steering


Bradner was a fellow of the American

Physical Society, a member of Phi Beta

Kappa and Sigma Xi honors societies, the

American Geophysical Union and the

Seismological Society of America. He was active in a number of local organizations and served on the San Diego Planetarium

Joint Powers Board 1969-1970 and the board of the San Diego Hall of Science.

He was a member of the La Jolla

Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and a

Hugh Bradner. (Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

An early model of Bradner's wetsuit. (Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography) Marine Technology Reporter 49

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