3-D Shark Skin Swimsuits? Researchers Explore Idea With New Experiment

Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia

PHOENIX, Arizona, June 24. THOUGH the era of the ultra-high tech swimsuits appears to be behind us, a new study might convince catch the eye of swimsuit manufacturers — and global governing body FINA — looking for a way to help swimmers boost speed without the use of non-textile materials.

A new study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology discussed the make-up of a shark’s skin, noting that the “sleek-looking skin … is peppered with millions of microscopic overlapping tooth-like scales. These so-called ‘denticles’ disrupt the smooth flow of water over the animal’s surface, reducing the drag that holds them back.”

Swimmers long to find ways to reduce drag during races, and this technology introduced in the article would help that effort. Using the skin of a mako shark as a model, researchers produced a three-dimensional replica of the skin from a 3-D printer. Moving the 3-D membrane in a flowing water tank at a speed of 0.6 meters per second, the scientists found that “the shark skin’s performance improved significantly, increasing the foil’s swimming speed by 6.6 percent and reducing the energy expended by 5.9 percent.”

Can this be translated to a swimsuit worn by a swimmer? The researchers think it’s a little too cost prohibitive, but did not say how much it cost to create their 3-D model.

“The manufacturing challenges are tremendous,” said Harvard University’s George Lauder.

Swimsuit manufacturers dabbled in the biology of shark’s skin in the late 1990s and early 2000s, designing suits that contained tiny panels on the surface that deflected water in many directions during swimming. That technology was a part of elite racing suits until the advent of the polyurethane suits of 2008.

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Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the host of several shows on SwimmingWorld.TV, including "The Morning Swim Show," which features interviews with people making headlines in aquatic sports. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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