5 Real and Potential Products Inspired by Shark Skin
When brainstorming new problem-solving strategies, it makes sense to first look at what the experts are doing—which is why scientists around the world are looking to sharks to create innovative technologies and products. These remarkable animals are some of the fastest swimmers in the ocean, using their torpedo-like bodies to propel themselves through the water at speeds of up to 43 miles per hour.
The secret to their speed is in their skin. Shark skin is comprised of millions of tooth-like scales called dermal denticles. They feel smooth when stroked in one direction but rough—like sandpaper—in the other. This unique dermal design reduces drag by preventing the formation of eddies, or turbulent swirls of slower water that generate friction and decrease swimming efficiency. It also creates an “auto-cleaning” effect that makes it difficult for ecto-parasites—such as barnacle larvae, algae and bacteria—to cling onto the rough surface.
Scientists have taken notice. Here are just a few of the ways they’re attempting to replicate this dermal design and apply it to different products and technologies.
Michael Phelps wasn’t the only star of the 2008 Summer Olympics—his suit also garnered plenty of media attention. The decorated Olympian swimmer competed in Speedo’s now infamous LZR suit, which the manufacturer says was inspired by shark skin. The record-breaking gear has since been banned, with new rules issued in 2010 prohibiting suits with fastening devices, such as zippers, in addition to other regulation changes.
2. Anti-Biofouling Material For Boats
Swimmers aren’t the only ones with a need for speed. Scientists have developed shark-skin-like material to prevent biofouling, or the accumulation of barnacles and algae on the bottom of boats. Though anti-biofouling paint already exists, most of it is toxic, and this new technology could offer an environmentally friendly way to reduce the friction caused by these organisms and increase the efficiency of cargo ships.
3. Fish Robots
Research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in May 2014 revealed that scientists have constructed the most true-to-life artificial shark skin yet. With the help of a micro-CT scanner and a 3-D printer, they were able to precisely replicate the denticles of a shortfin mako shark and discover it could increase swimming speed by 6.6 percent. The team believes it could be used to coat fish-like underwater robots that are currently in the works. It also has the potential to reduce drag in the air by being applied to rudders, airplane wings, fans or wind turbines.
4. Bacteria-Resistant Hospital Surfaces
Drawing inspiration from the microbe-resistant properties of shark skin, Sharklet Technologies is developing and bringing to market surface technologies that manage microorganisms. Its core technology, called Sharklet, is touted as the first no-kill, nontoxic and environmentall friendly surface texture designed to inhibit bacterial growth, including MRSA, E. coli, Staph a. and more. It can be applied to hospital surfaces, public restrooms, childcare facilities and other bacteria-prone places, and can even be manufactured directly into the surfaces of products, such as medical devices—the company is currently developing a Sharklet Urinary Catheter to reduce the prevalence of catheter-associated urinary tract infections.
5. Germ-Free Smartphone Cases
Combine the number of things we touch each day with the number of times we touch our phones daily and you’re looking at one seriously dirty phone. Sharklet tackled this problem, too, with its Sharklet-coated Sharklet Smartphone Case, which it claims reduces bacterial contamination up to 90 percent compared with a competitor product made from the same material.
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