Science: Ersatz Kapok

A prayer and a life jacket are just about all there is to rely on when a torpedoed seaman takes the big jump from his sinking ship. Kapok—the silky, white, feather-soft down from the pods of the kapok tree—is the buoyant filling of most life jackets, many life rafts and lifeboat airtight compartments. It can support up to 35 times its own weight. In peacetime, kapok's biggest use was in mattresses, upholstery padding and the like. Most (and the best) kapok came from Java. The Japs put a stop to that. Now, as demand...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!