Before I begin, please do let me apologise for the lack of ‘bloggage’ over the last week…. the main reason for this is me being out and about visiting F1 teams for discussions about various things (most of which I cannot divulge before you ask!).
Now I hear you thinking that this blog is going to be fairly succinct and absolutely not worth a read during that respite and relaxation period we used to experience years and years ago called a coffee break!
So, in lieu of the fact that my lips are sealed within this post on anything F1, I’m still going to discuss something very closely connected – at least in terms of where mathematics and simulation are concerned. I am also conscious that I need to make some blogs less mathsy – so I have been told by close friends and the wife!
So here goes…
Sometime back, and it’s not going to take just the genii amongst you to calculate exactly how far back, a swimsuit hit the news that was to revolutionise the olympic swimming events at the upcoming Olympics at the time – pause for said genii to put 2 + 2 together and come up with 2008!
It was a suit that was designed to reduce drag (here comes the connection to F1) and limit the energy required from the swimmer wearing said suit for a particular race relative to the swimmer wearing conventional swimwear – much as I had described in a previous blog about the drag reduction on the cyclist.
I’m sure by now you’ll remember exactly which suit I am talking about – what I wanted to mention is where the idea for the suit came from….. so the title of today’s blog will now become apparent: whilst trying to decide on how to improve the suit, the designers and maths boffs (NASA to be precise) were thinking around the usual, more obvious methods of minimising drag. Removing any external stitching, zips or fasteners to be on this inside if possible and also use a fabric which is as water-repellant as you can get – — a NASA influenced fabric which you can guarantee will be as repellent to water as Lewis Hamilton is to Race Stewards!
Ok so this gave % points reduction in drag and provided the kind of improvements that were being sought. However, it was during these brain-storming activities that someone started to talk about a nature program they’d seen on TV recently about predators and mentioned the shark.
For those of you out there that have never thought about the importance of nature and how it allows engineers, designers and even us lowly mathematicians to try to replicate, as best we can, features of the natural world into our everyday lives. For example, look into some considerable detail of how a butterfly’s wing is constructed at a nano level; or the more widely appreciated honeycombs of honey bees; beavers in both their own physiology and their ability in construction, spiders webs, house-martins nests, elephants trunk, the strength of an ant….. I could go on and on, and frequently do so I’m told!
This one engineer suggested the hydrodynamic properties of a shark.
Sharks are one of, if not the, most finely tuned, agile and speedy predators on the planet – they zip through the water with no apparent hinderance – so the engineer thought what is so unique about a shark that allows this efficient, seemless delivery of speed in the dense medium of water?
If you were lucky enough, or stupid enough, to stroke a shark you’ll notice that they are as smooth as you’d expect – from nose to tail that is. If you were to stroke them tail to nose (apparently they don’t like this, so do this with caution!) you’ll notice that they are similar to that of a cat’s tongue* having areas of what appear to be tiny scales.
It’s the function of these scales that provide the shark with its hydrodynamic efficiency in the water by providing vorticity trips at specific pressure regions to minimise overall drag.
To try to illustrate this is a little difficult without a dry-wipe board, some markers and some considerable arm waving…… If you’ve ever been on holiday and swam in the pool underwater and whilst wearing goggles you see other people swimming underwater, they appear to be surrounded by a very close-fitting bubble. It’s this bubble that ads to hydrodynamic drag and essentially would, either slow you down, or cause you to expend more energy in getting from a to b.
These ‘vorticity trips’ or scales on the shark are there to prevent this ‘close fitting bubble’ from occurring and therefore minimising any resultant drag it may have otherwise caused, allowing the shark to be as nimble as possible and not tiring it out too soon in it quest for fresh meat.
This principle was applied to the swimsuit and at critical points on the suit, tiny little scales, vorticity trips were added re-creating the perfectly engineered world of nature.
Hence the reason the swimmers wearing this suit were incredibly successful – so much so, the suit was then banned.
One fundamental lesson we should all take from this, if nothing else. We can ALL learn from nature if we open our eyes……
* certain species.