Sciency Words: Bunny Suit

Sciency Words PHYS copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


Okay, I’ve snuck into a top-secret government research facility in Nevada. I’m not entirely sure what they do here, but as a science fiction writer I have to know stuff about science. Specifically, the kind of futuristic science they do in top-secret government research facilities.

As I crouch behind some crates labeled “Roswell materials,” I overhear two of the scientists talking. “I’ve got to go put on my bunny suit,” one of them says.

Bunny suit? I couldn’t have heard that right. At first, I picture something like the Playboy Bunny outfit, in part because the two scientists happen to be women. Then a less sexist part of my brain suggests that they might be talking about an Easter Bunny costume. But that doesn’t make sense either.

Fortunately, I have my smartphone with me, and I’ve already hacked into this research facility’s wifi (the password was “password”). So I google “bunny suit science” and find out that they’re actually talking about this:

Image courtesy: Wikipedia Commons
Image courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

The more proper, more technically accurate term would be cleanroom suit. Cleanroom suits are those loose-fitting, papery outfits that go over your regular clothes and cover your entire body. They sometimes include a mask and goggles to cover the face, but not always.

Think of the perfectly smooth mirrors being made for the James Webb Space Telescope, or the highly precise laser instruments used at LIGO to detect gravitational waves. If you’re working with that kind of extremely sensitive equipment, the kind of equipment that could get screwed up by the slightest speck of dust from off your skin or off your clothes, then you have to wear a cleanroom suit.

Except people who work in the science biz don’t call them cleanroom suits. They call them bunny suits. That’s the kind of insider lingo that I, as a science fiction writer, can totally use in a story at some point.

Now, let’s see what else I can learn for my stories—uh oh, gotta run. The dogs caught my scent.

7 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Bunny Suit

  1. One thing I think science fiction writers always have to keep in mind, is that people generally don’t refer to things by their technical name. Think “TV” or “telly” instead of “television”. And mythological names often get drafted, such as “daemon” for a Unix / Linux background process.

    This almost certainly would be true of new inventions. For instance, a space elevator is more likely to be called something like a “beanstalk” (as in “Jack and the…”).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I like that idea… calling a space elevator a beanstalk. I totally agree with you. Creating a few nicknames and getting away from the technical terms can help give the fictional future a “lived-in” feel.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Truth in advertising: I’m pretty sure I saw the term “beanstalk” in someone’s sci-fi novel.

        The trick, of course, is introducing these terms but figuring out a way to clue the reader on what it actually is. Sometimes there’ll be enough context, but other times we might have to figure out heavy handed we need to be with the incluing.

        I read a book a few years ago with the spaceships entering “highways”. I never figured out what a “highway” was until I went back to the opening pages and very carefully read when they were intro’d. (As near I could tell, the “highways” were giant solar system spanning particle beams that solar sail ships could enter for a speed boost.) This was a book where the incluing was often far too subtle, at least for me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, that usage of the word highway would need a little explanation. Of course you also don’t want to have those awkward moments where characters are explaining things to each other that they presumably already know. It’s also weird sometimes when the narrator explains something that, from the narrator’s perspective, is supposed to be common knowledge.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The dreaded “as you know” dialog. No editor will accept it these days. Which is interesting because, in real life, people engage in “as you know” dialog all the time.

        OTOH, if you can figure out a plausible reason why two characters would be arguing about it, you can often sneak in a lot of expository dialog.

        Personally, as a casual reader, I have no real issue with brief info dumps, particularly when they will avoid me being confused about things like “highways” for a whole book. It breaks narrow viewpoint stream of consciousness, but I think most readers will forgive it, as long as it’s not overdone.


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