Refueling Faster with Shark Skin

Syliva Kleefisch, Martina Mayer, Hanna Mertens

project report

The world is currently focusing on the challenges resulting from global warming. This affects animals particularly severely, for example the polar bear that lives on the rapidly shrinking Arctic sea ice. Over the last 20 years, its extent has shrunk by 6% due to the rapid temperature rise over the last century and this process is accelerating. It has been estimated that the polar bear will go extinct in the wild within 30 years.

How does our society respond to this? Even the large, so-called modern countries oppose the necessary climate and environmental measures as they could lead to economic disadvantages. Humanity does not respond to disaster alerts, we are not shocked anymore when we hear that business as usual will lead to thousands of deaths due to famines in Africa and that the rising sea levels will flood significant parts of the world. How many people have changed their way of life, e.g. by getting rid of their car and travelling locally? Which companies have limited their travel for meetings, e.g. from Hamburg to Rome or even New York?

Complicated technologies are being developed to limit pollution, however, this is taking far too long. While new filters and complicated tests are being developed, glaciers are melting all over the world. The permanent damage that is currently happening needs to be stopped and this requires us to act fast and effectively.

Therefore, we set ourselves the goal to develop and produce something that can protect the environment and significantly reduce pollution. We do not want to watch the destruction of our environment, like millions of people who just wait without acting. We do not want to become numb with respect to facts, thinking that we could not make a difference anyway. We do not want to be part of a society that cannot be shocked anymore.

Thinking that nature itself could offer some answers, we looked into bionics. Bionics is becoming increasingly important in modern technologies. For example, wings of aeroplanes imitate those of birds, the lotus effect has become a major topic, and plasters use surfaces similar to those of Gecko toes rather than glue.

The last Olympics have demonstrated the extreme performance that can be achieved through bionics. Almost all swimming world records were broken with swimsuits that resemble shark skin. This is not just about speed, but it is also about enabling a more efficient use of energy. Saving energy and reducing pollution are very important goals in a world with limited energy supplies that faces increasing pollution challenges. Small, versatile improvements can have a big impact and this is our goal. For example, surfaces that resemble shark skin could be used to coat boats or aeroplanes in order to achieve the same speed and travel the same distance with less fuel and less pollution. Our project is about developing a versatile product that reduces friction, so that our environmental challenges can be addressed quickly.

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