Saturday, September 22, 2007

Want to fly, climb walls?

In his book, “Pulse”, the author Robert Frenay refers to the study of penguins undertaken by a scientist named Rudolf Bannasch

“We have studied the energetics of penguins swimming in the Antarctic. These animals spend most of their lives in the water of the cold ice sea. They had to learn how to use their energy in an ergonomic way—how to spend as little as possible for swimming.”

Rather than being one smooth contour from head to tail, a penguin’s body has small undulations—subtle ridges around its circumference—which raise the speed of the water passing over them. Behind those undulations the passing water slows and curls in on itself. This creates a roller effect that separates the water flowing past it from the animal’s body, dramatically reducing friction.

Penguins feed on krill, a small crustacean, Bannasch says. “We analyzed their energy consumption and found that they need only one kilogram of krill to travel about a hundred and thirty kilometers in the sea.” That’s the equivalent, he translates, of using a liter of gasoline to travel about fifteen hundred kilometers in that water.

Back at his desk, Bannasch displays with some pride a photo of an athlete dressed in brightly colored shorts and T-shirt, standing next to an unusual-looking bicycle. It’s enclosed in a streamlined white shell that looks oddly like a penguin. The bike is a racer, and the light fiberglass shell was formed in a Mercedes-Benz lab. They have raced it, he says, and with impressive results.
Hmmm. I am now convinced that Superman was real. The reason Clark Kent rushed into the booth to change into his special clothes before flying, was because the scientists of Krypton had created his super-costume, by impregnating it with millions of undulations that minimized friction dramatically and took advantage of favourable eddies. Superman is neither a fictional character, nor a frictional one.

And, I am also convinced now that Spider-Man’s ability to cling to walls and his superhuman powers did not happen because he was bitten by an irradiated spider, but because he had special equipment. Already nanotechnologists in Turin, Italy claim to have created a "hierarchy of adhesive forces," using carbon nanotubes, which are strong enough to hold the weight of a person suspended from a wall or ceiling. This tech could possibly lead to a kind of microscopic hook and loop configuration, a la Velcro. And a world of wall-walking "underwear perverts" will surely ensue?


Unknown said...

I should start running or swimming.. I have little tires around my tummy area which I didnt know where natural undulations!!

who knows, I might swim like a penguin..


Raj said...

sundar, yes, you could be an "Emperor Penguin'!

Anonymous said...

Why 'underwear perverts'

Raj said...

Sankar, haven't you heard the difference between normal man and Phantom?

dipali said...

Methinks the world is slowly moving towards super-hero-dom. It is now de rigeur for underwear to be seen above the waistband of low rise trousers/jeans- very soon the entire garment would be seen on top of the said trousers:)

Raj said...

dipali, that's a very perceptive comment!