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14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry

By Amelia Hennighausen and Eric Roston - 2013-08-19T12:01:13Z

Photographs by Edward Kinsman/Photo Researchers; Nick Wilson/Getty Images

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Boats, Hospitals Don Sharkskin

For a beast that moves slowly through the ocean, sharks stay remarkably clear of algae and other fellow travelers. That’s largely a function of their unique skin, covered with microscopic patterns called dentricles, which help reduce drag and keep microorganisms from hitching free rides.

NASA scientists copied the patterns to create drag-reducing patterns they call riblets. They worked with 3M to adapt the riblets to a thin film used to coat the hull of the sailboat Stars & Stripes, which won an Olympic medal and the America's Cup before the riblets were banned in 1987. The America's Cup race has since reinstated them. Other applications can help planes, boats and windmills reduce drag and conserve energy.

Sharklet Technologies, based in Aurora, Colorado, makes surface materials for hospitals, restaurant kitchens, public bathrooms and elsewhere that repel bacteria. Dentricle-like nano-scale structures on the surface prevent the bugs from taking root.

A Dumb Question about biomimicry.

Read more Energy & Sustainability news.