How A Shark Is Like A Golf Ball

imageIt sounds like a joke, but scientists apparently have discovered that sharks can raise their scales to create tiny vortexes across the surface of their skin, reducing drag as they propel themselves through the water. That’s the same principle that keeps a golf ball in the air—and why a smooth ball doesn’t fly as fast or far as one that has dimples (or hexes, as the case may be).

(Read this for an explanation of why golf balls fly.)

Now I have to admit that I always thought shark skin would be a bit like catfish skin—smooth, not scaly. But apparently, the beasts are covered with micro scales, just 200 micrometers long that are made from enamel, giving them a rough texture. (I’ll take their word on this. Who wants to pet a shark?) And they also can seemingly “bristle” their scales.

In a study published in New Scientist, some University of Alabama scientists created an artificial shark skin with the scales set at a 90 degree angle. This was then put in moving water that was impregnated with silver coated nanospheres. When the water was illuminated with lasers, it showed that tiny vortices were formed in the cavities between the scales. These mini whirlpools formed a buffer later that prevented turbulent wakes from forming.

As with golf balls, eliminating wakes allows the sharks to travel faster and more more easily.

I’m absolutely sure there’s a Greg Norman joke hidden in all of this.

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