Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Shark Engineering

PostedAugust 7, 2016

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Anchor Lead: Last week, we told you how butterfly wing structure helps their flight. Engineers are also learning potentially useful aviation tricks from sharks.

Randy Atkins: The mako shark is fast.

Amy Lang: Sort of the cheetah of the open ocean.

Randy Atkins: Amy Lang, an aerospace engineer at the University of Alabama, says that’s partly because its streamlined shape easily cuts through water. But it has a big assist from the shark’s scaly skin.

Amy Lang: These little scales are just popping up all over the skin with reversing flow, controlling it, and thereby reducing a large source of drag on the animal.

Randy Atkins: Lang says such a mechanism might also help aircraft surfaces. For example, smooth helicopter blades often lose lift and speed so she’s trying to engineer…

Amy Lang: …a tape that can be applied on aircraft that mimics this effect that the scales are doing on the shark.

Randy Atkins: With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.