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Hydrodynamic Performance of Billfish Skin Surface Roughness: Towards Drag-Reducing Engineering Surfaces

School of Engineering

About the Project

Biological surfaces often exhibit roughness features across a wide range of scales, serving a multitude of functions from protective armour through to controlling heat and mass transfer rates at the surface of the organism. The significant positive impact that skin surface roughness can have on hydrodynamic performance of marine species has been demonstrated through numerous studies of sharks.

Similar to sharks, billfish (e.g. marlin, sailfish, spearfish and swordfish) are apex marine predators and are recognised as being amongst the fastest swimming fish in the oceans. They too exhibit unique patterns of roughness across their bodies but it is wholly unlike what is found on sharks. Despite the fact that many hypotheses have been proposed to explain the exceptional swimming performance of the billfish, the role that this skin surface roughness plays remains poorly understood.

It is postulated that the fish scales (i.e., roughness elements) on the body of the billfish serve multiple functions, one of which may be hydrodynamical. For example, it can be argued that these roughness elements act to modify the boundary layer of the flow around the fish in such a way that improves their swimming performance. In addition, it is quite possible that the beneficial drag-reducing effects of the roughness elements are only observed when the fish most requires them; in other words, when they are operating at their sprinting (or burst) speeds. Furthermore, while the billfish exhibit some similarities, they do have somewhat distinctive roughness patterns on their skin and the significance of these variations remains to be understood.

Through a ‘biomimetical’ approach, better understanding of the natural morphology of billfish skin roughness has the potential to lead to improved design of engineering surfaces for the transport of fluids, among other practical applications. In addition to engineering applications, the results will also benefit fish biologists in helping to identify the role of skin roughness in the overall biomechanics and physiology of billfish.

Consequently, the central motivation for this project is to determine the hydrodynamic function of the roughness features on the body of the billfish. A secondary incentive is to understand how differences between billfish skin roughness affect their performance over a range of swimming speeds. Lastly, is to understand how these skin roughness patterns can be exploited to realise efficiency improvements and energy savings across a variety of engineering fields.

The successful applicant will be expected to contribute to all stages of the project from experimental design, through to conducting experiments and collecting, processing and interpreting the data before writing everything up. Experiments will be carried out in the University of Aberdeen’s Fluid Mechanics laboratory where the applicant will have access to a range of instrumentation, including a modular Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in in a suitable Engineering discipline (e.g. Civil, Mechanical), or Physics.

Essential background and Knowledge: A Highly motivated, pro-active individual with keen interest in fluid mechanics and excellent communication skills, particularly in academic writing, with knowledge of turbulence, open-channel flow, programming and data analysis.


Formal applications can be completed online:

- Apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering
- State the name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
- State the exact project title on the application form
- All Degree Certificates/Academic Transcripts (officially translated into English and original)
- 2 Academic References on official headed paper and signed or sent from referees official email address
- Detailed CV
- Confirmation you can meet the difference in fees (if applicable)

If a suitable candidate is found before the closing date of 12 noon on 30 April 2021, the advert will be removed.

The start date of the project is as soon as possible but no later than 1 July 2021.

Funding Notes

Applications are welcome from International students. However, any portion of tuition fees not covered by the funding must be met by the applicant. For example, tuition fees for academic year 2020/2021 are £21,000 for International students and £4,407 for UK/EU students (providing EU start before August 2021), which would leave an outstanding amount of £16,593 to be paid by the applicant

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