Academic Insight: Developing shark skin technology for green aviation


I joined the National Research Council of Canada’s Structures, Material and Performance Lab in 2002, after earning a PhD in Aerospace at the University of Bristol in the UK.

My research areas at the National Research Council (NRC) include composites manufacturing, process modeling, physical and virtual testing of structural performance, adhesive bonding technology, aircraft maintenance, and green aviation. 

I have led strategic planning and research in addressing technology gaps and developing new solutions in these areas for industry, Canada’s Department of National Defence and other clients. I’ve worked on areas from conceptual to technology implementation, from testing and evaluation to modeling and simulation, and from aircraft development, certification to sustainment. 

One of my passions is technology development for green aviation. My current project, the Shark Skin for Green Aviation project, focuses on developing a shark skin-like surface coating that offers the potential of reducing aircraft drag and fuel burn by up to 6%. This technology of turning aircraft into “flying sharks” represents a near-term solution that can have a direct impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation in a matter of years. The technology can also be applied to wind turbines, marine ships for energy efficiency and noise reduction. 

Our research at the NRC in shark skin is built on tremendous effort from previous work done by numerous companies and research organizations. Our team at the NRC and external collaborators are working to advance the technology and apply it more widely by addressing challenges. One of the core technological challenges is developing the physical and digital tools to design and optimize shark skin, which could be a 2D hair-sized polymer microriblet along the flow direction of aircraft, or more complicated 3D design to maximize drag and noise reduction. Another challenge is to ensure the durability of the riblets. 

We have made great progress in fabrication of riblet films using a patented in-house coating material formula with excellent erosion and rain resistance. We have demonstrated our capability of fabricating riblet film continuously. We are looking for innovative solutions to implement and repair shark skin. We are very excited about being part of the effort in supporting the transformation of aviation to a green industry. 

Throughout my career, I have also been a strong advocate of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). I’m passionate about supporting organizations and communities in advancing the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive, and conscious efforts.

I led the development of the NRC’s first mentorship program for women, which was then expanded to a successful NRC-wide mentorship program. I currently serve as vice president of the Canadian Association of Composite Structures and Materials. EDI was one of the priorities I brought to the research and engineering community to support women and other minority groups, as well as professionals and students. 

Changing culture and breaking the glass ceiling remain difficult, but I am hopeful. The NRC has set EDI as one of four strategic priorities, which is a testament of the NRC’s and Canada’s resolution in fostering a healthy and inclusive workplace culture.  \\

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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