Plane redesign can be inspired by sharks


Sharks must inspire the design of more efficient planes and automobiles, according to new study.

Tapping into the continuing excellence of sharkskin, commissioned by 400 million years of development,  both the teams from Harvard and the University of South Carolina say it provides solutions for growing products — like planes, automobiles and drones that ‘outperform conventional designs’.

“The epidermis of sharks is coated with thousands and thousands of little scales, or denticlesthat differ in shape and size round the body,” explained Professor George Lauder, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard. “We know a lot about the arrangement of the denticles — that are very much like human teeth — although the purpose has been debated.”

In tests, the researchers utilized the denticle measurements of the planet’s fastest shark, that the  shortfin mako. They ‘3-D published the shapes on the surface of a wing with a rounded aerodynamic cross-section, called a ‘ airfoil’.

“Airfoils are a primary part of all aerial devices. We wanted to examine these constructions on airfoils as a way of measuring their effect on lift and drag for software in the design of different aerial devices such as drones, planes, along with wind turbines,” said August Domel, a Harvard Ph.D..

In trying out various configurations, the engineers also found that as well as reducing drag,   the ‘denticle-shaped structures considerably increased elevator, acting as high-powered, non invasive vortex generators’. Vortex generators will be the small devices used in automobiles and planes to make them even more aerodynamic by changing the atmosphere.

“It is possible to envision these vortex generators used on wind turbines or drones to increase the efficacy of their blades,” added Katia Bertoldi, William and Ami Kuan Danoff Professor of Applied Mechanics at SEAS and co-author of their study. “The results open new avenues for improved, bioinspired aerodynamic designs.”