While Sharklet holds great promise to improve the way humans co-exist with microorganisms, the pattern was developed far outside of a laboratory. In fact, Sharklet was discovered via a seemingly unrelated problem: how to keep algae from coating the hulls of submarines and ships. In 2002, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Florida, was visiting the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu as part of Navy-sponsored research. The U.S. Office of Naval Research solicited Dr. Brennan to find new antifouling strategies to reduce use of toxic antifouling paints and trim costs associated with dry dock and drag.
Dr. Brennan was convinced that using an engineered topography could be a key to new antifouling technologies. Clarity struck as he and several colleagues watched an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port. Dr. Brennan remarked that the submarine looked like a whale lumbering into the harbor. In turn, he asked which slow moving marine animals don’t foul. The only one? The shark.