January 30, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

A Step Closer to Gecko Adhesive

Scientists are getting closer to imitating the amazing wall-climbing ability of geckos.  Science Daily reports that a team from UC Berkeley manufactured tape with hard polymer fibers just 600 nanometers across that mimic the spatulae on gecko feet.
    This latest attempt at imitating the gecko works only on smooth, clean surfaces, but requires no pressure and resists sliding.  It lifts off easily and leaves no residue.  Both gecko feet and the new tape work by employing intermolecular forces called van der Waals forces that only become significant at close range.  The tiny fibers create a large surface area for these forces to act on.
    Next, the team wants to improve it so that it can work on rough or dirty surfaces and clean itself.  Geckos are still way out in front in this technology (01/04/2005).  Their spatulae, being much smaller (200 nanometers in diameter), resist contamination because large dirt particles are more likely to stick to the surface than to the foot.

It was only after 2000 that scientists began to understand the physics of gecko feet (08/27/2002).  Immediately, they set out to imitate them.  Products inspired by this technology will soon find wide application.  Science inspired by nature’s designs – biomimetics – is on the forefront of research that, unlike evolutionary theory, is poised to improve our daily lives.

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