Shark Skins and Boat Skins

Dr. Anthony Brennan is a University of Florida professor of materials science.  He tells the story of being in Pearl Harbor and seeing a navy submarine go by with its hull covered with algae.  He then noticed a shark swimming by whose skin was completely free of algae.  As he thought about what he had observed he recalled that sharks never seem to have barnacles, sea lettuce, or clams or any of the growths of plants and animals that seem to bother all man-made structures in the sea.  This has led to the invention of "Sharklet," a patented marine coating that is based on shark skin.

If you have ever run your hand over the skin of a shark, you know that it is bristly to the human touch.  The scales of a shark have a regular pattern of raised riblets which are diamond-shaped and are called placoids.  These structures are about one-tenth of a millimeter wide and do not allow any biological glue or attachment method to hold to them.  The result is that the shark skin has no turbulence as the shark swims through the water.  Dr. Volkmar Stenzel at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has developed a method of using silicon film to produce Sharklet for boats.  It has taken many years to find a way to duplicate shark skin, using the most complex tools known to man to do it.  The question of how such structures come about by chance is one that seems at the limits of man's imagination.  The more we learn about the natural world the more we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

--Data from Advanced Materials and Processes, March 2007, page 13 and

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