Iridescent beetle shells as inspiration for a photonic crystal? Fine. Robotic dragonflies for surveillance solutions? Okay. But the appendages of a humpback whale as inspiration for wind turbine design? Bit of a creative leap, surely?
Those knobby flippers were long considered one of the oddities of the sea, found on no other earthly creature.
But after years of study, starting with a whale that washed up on a New Jersey beach, Frank Fish thinks he knows their secret. The bumps cause water to flow over the flippers more smoothly, giving the giant mammal the ability to swim tight circles around its prey.
What works in the ocean seems to work in air. Already a flipperlike prototype is generating energy on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, with twin, bumpy-edged blades knifing through the air. And this summer, an industrial fan company plans to roll out its own whale-inspired model – moving the same amount of air with half the usual number of blades and thus a smaller, energy-saving motor.
So, there you have it – appropriately-named university professor finds application for cetacean hydrodynamics.