In Olympic swimming competitions, 1/100th of a second can make the difference between winning and losing. Because the resistive drag opposing the motion of swimmers’ bodies is of great importance, many swimmers choose newly-designed swimsuits that reduce the drag.
The suits are designed to mimic the shark, natures fastest aquatic creature even more closely. Scanning electron microscope studies have revealed that tiny “teeth” (dermal denticles) cover the surface of a sharks’ skin that produce vertical vortices or spirals of water, keeping the water closer to the shark’s body and thus reducing friction. This phenomenon is known as the Riblet Effect, and research into shark skin is ongoing at NASA Langley Research Center. “It’s like a fast-moving river current versus the gurgling turbulence of a shallow stream.”says shark researcher George Burgess.
Fastskin (biomimetic design swimsuits) developed in the Speedo Aqualab emulates the hydrodynamic efficiency of the dermal denticles of a shark’s skin and “super-stretch” characteristics of the fabric improve shape retention and increase muscle compression to reduce vibration and retain muscle shape to reduce fatigue and power loss. This is the most technically advanced swimwear ever made. The V-shaped denticle print of the fabric allows the body to slip through the water more smoothly.
The scales also discourage barnacles and algae from glomming on—an inspiration for synthetic coatings that may soon be applied to Navy ship hulls to reduce such biofouling.