Optical System Design for Printing Drag-Reducing Shark Skin and Other Functional Microstructures

Engineering, IT, Mathematics and Statistics, Medical, Biological and other Sciences

Please Note

  • Applications for this opportunity are ongoing until Candidate successful.
  • Due to the sensitivity and security of this project, students must have Australian Citizenship to apply. Students also need to be enrolled in one of the following universities; Macquarie University, The University of Newcastle, The University of New South Wales, The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, University of Wollongong or Western Sydney University. Any applicants not meeting this requirement will automatically be deemed ineligible for this project. This research internship is funded in partnership with New South Wales Defence Innovation Network.

Impact Statement

Optical system design and testing to produce a wide, uniform diffraction pattern for microlithography of drag-reducing shark skin and other functional microstructures. Website: https://www.microtau.com.au/

What’s in it for you?

The primary purpose of the APR program is for the intern to gain relevant professional training and skills within the workplace.

  • Opportunity to work with true innovators
  • Opportunity to work closely with the MicroTau’s executives
  • Opportunity to gain experience in the Defence space

Research to be Conducted

MicroTau has developed a direct contactless microfabrication (DCM) technology to print functional microstructures using patterned ultraviolet (UV) radiation and photopolymers. These patterns include drag-reducing shark skin microstructures, as well as further designs under development with properties including adaptive camouflage, anti-fouling, optical and anti-bacterial properties. This technology is being developed for defence customers including the Australian Army and US Air Force as well as civilian applications.

The DCM technology involves an optical system that produces a micro-scale irradiance pattern that corresponds to the desired functional microstructure design. MicroTau has fabricated shark skin microstructures that reliably demonstrate a 7% skin friction drag reduction in wind tunnel testing by Lockheed Martin and is now scaling up the DCM technology for manufacturing and integration.

The size and intensity of this micro-scale irradiance pattern determines our maximum production speed. Prototype optical systems have been designed and assembled and have been successfully used in manufacture but are slow to use and require improvements to removing undesired effects. MicroTau is interested in improving the prototype designs and scaling the light system to match desired print areas for manufacture and speed up production.

The research to be conducted includes scaling up the DCM process by linking an array of optical systems to fabricate microstructures faster by sweeping out a larger area as it translates across a surface.

The optical system utilises a diffraction effect to create the desired patterns in a UV curable coating. The optical system contains a laser diode light source and may include some combination of lenses, mirrors and photomasks. The primary aim is to design and manufacture an array of these optical systems to produce a near uniform diffraction pattern over a large area. This may involve design of Gaussian beam shaping optics, of uniform line generating optics, and of an optomechanical system that allows for the concatenation of laser systems through a photomask. Alternative design pathways exist including utilising an incoherent light source which may also be explored.

Secondary aims include investigation of methods to increase the depth of field of the optical system, and for the design of a method for measuring the consistency of the output diffraction pattern with some auto-adjust capabilities.

The project will also involve considerations of integrating with robotic systems currently deployed for use with US Air Force aircraft.

Skills Required

If you’re a PhD student and meet some or all the below we want to hear from you. We strongly encourage women, indigenous and disadvantaged candidates to apply:


  • Experience in optical and experimental design.
  • Laser systems experience.
  • Working knowledge of Gaussian beams, and beam shaping techniques.
  • Experience with diffraction methods.


  • Optical theory or software modelling (e.g. Zemax, or preferably open source equivalent)
  • Knowledge of CAD software
  • Knowledge of electronic optomechanics

Expected Outcomes

Demonstrated microfabrication with an array of at least 2 optical systems. Produce design for an array that is capable of producing a uniform diffraction image over 200 mm wide. Design method for measurement and automatic adjustment of individual components of each system (intensity control and an ‘auto-focus’).

Design plan for integration with stationary and dynamic robotic system.

Stretch goal: demonstration of optical system with robotic arm.

The intern and their academic mentor will have the opportunity to negotiate the project’s scope, milestones and timeline during the project planning stage.

Additional Details

The intern will receive $3,000 per month of the internship, usually in the form of stipend payments.

It is expected that the intern will primarily undertake this research project during regular business hours, spending at least 80% of their time on-site with the industry partner.  The intern will be expected to maintain contact with their academic mentor throughout the internship either through face-to-face or phone meetings as appropriate.

The intern and their academic mentor will have the opportunity to negotiate the project’s scope, milestones and timeline during the project planning stage.

Sydney, NSW
5 months
Domestic students only
APR – 1242



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