Most of us who have done any snorkeling have seen boxfishes. They have a rectangular shell of bony armor on the front two-thirds of their bodies with eyes, mouth, and fins poking through holes in the covering. The fish is actually an uninterrupted mosaic of hexagonal tiles of bone, the edges of which act as a keel running the entire length of the fish. The dorsal and anal fins of the fish are well to its rear. Just looking at the fish you would assume they are slow cumbersome creatures, surviving only because they are too boney and hard to eat. Dr. Ian Bartol, a biologist in Virginia, has shown that these fish can move at six body lengths per second--a very fast rate.
The secret of this fast movement is the fact that the shape of the fish produces a drag coefficient of .2. A flat box would have a drag coefficient of 1.5. Bartol has found that the keels that form the edges of the box set up strong spiral vortices that flow along the surface of the fish. The pressure in these vortices is lower than the undisturbed fluid around the fish and pulls the fish up or down. The fins in the back of the fish are placed in such a way that they adjust the vortices to allow rapid turns or if left alone stabilize the fish. The function of the keels is totally passive so very little energy is required of the fish, and no controls are needed to allow it to go where it wants to. Adam Summers writing in Natural History says "a clever set of immovable strakes, shaping the body from stem to stern, lets geometry and fluid dynamics do all this work `for free.'"
Mercedes-Benz, in their latest concept car, has been able to get a drag coefficient of .19, copying the design of the boxfish and Newsweek, September 26, 2005, page 55, indicates that fuel ratings for the DCX range from 70 mpg to 84 mpg. The wisdom and design built into all living things offer us many solutions to the problems of the twenty-first century. That same wisdom also speaks to us about how to live and conduct ourselves in our personal relationships to everyone and everything around us.
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