Researchers are turning to shark skin and dragonfly wings for new nanotech. 

The microscopic makeup of these natural surfaces may hold the key to better applications in human technologies, studies by Flinders University and international collaborators have found.

“Our study looked at the special structure of the ribletted surfaces of some sharks which enables them to reduce drag and friction in fast-swimming sharks while also deterring microscopic marine organisms from adhering to their skin,” says Flinders University Professor Youhong Tang, from the College of Science and Engineering.

“The shape of riblets on the skin surface influences the effectiveness of the drag reduction greatly, with the riblet surfaces performing best when aligned parallel to the flow direction.”

Led by Chinese naval architecture and ocean design and engineering collaborators, the research is focusing on developing a simple biomimetic turbulent drag reduction topology on this shark skin-inspired research modelling.

This will be used to guide design of more fuel efficient marine surfaces, including cargo ships and pipelines, which also may not be as prone to attracting aquatic biofilm buildup which drags on shipping hulls.

Answers to leading scientific questions have been found in nature, with other Flinders University, La Trobe University and other researchers describing the potential of antibacterial powers of insect wings.

“The wings of dragonflies and cicadas have evolved to use the structural features of their surface to attain bactericidal properties,” says Flinders University researcher Dr Vi Khanh Truong, from the Flinders Biomedical Nanoengineering Laboratory.

“The nanopillars or nanospikes present on these natural materials physically damage the bacterial cells that settle on the nanostructures resulting in cell lysis and death.

This study looks at these natural surfaces to provide guidelines for the design of synthetic bio-inspired materials and also create some novel fabrication techniques used to produce biomimetic micro- and nano-structures on synthetic material surfaces.”