Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Shark-Skin Planes

PostedNovember 22, 2009

Download File (mp3)

Randy Atkins: A shark’s skin is made up of thousands of tiny tooth-like scales that manipulate the flow of water around its body.  Without such a mechanism, the shark would be slowed during sudden turns because...

Amy Lang: …the flow is not going to want to follow.  It’s going to separate from the body.  And that results in higher drag and once you have higher drag it makes it harder to move and harder to maneuver.

Randy Atkins: Amy Lang, a University of Alabama engineer, says where water’s about to separate, shark scales lift to…

Amy Lang: …cause more local, tiny bits of separation on the surface, but the main flow then still remains attached.

Randy Atkins: Lang says air and water act similarly, so engineering airplane skin like shark skin might increase the fuel efficiency and speed of your future flights.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, 103-point-5 F-M and WTOP-dot-com.


  • A story about Lang's research
  • A photo of Lang's prototype of the scales - or denticles - and the water tunnel in which they are tested
  • A close-up picture of the denticles