Gecko adhesive

Mediterranean gecko

This is the Mediterranean house gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, which runs rampant all over Portugal (including at least one living around my veranda container plants). Anyone who has ever seen a gecko in action knows that their ability to stick to surfaces is unparalleled. They can go vertical and hang upside down with the same ease that they sprint across level ground, and yet — unlike snails — their incredible adhesive can be instantly detached and reattached, and does not leave any residue. For years this ability has been something of a tease to scientists. Think of the commercial applications if such reusable stickability could be duplicated and mass produced!

Last time I read about this research, it was still hitting brick walls. Everyone was focusing on the setae of gecko feet — microscopic hairs on their complicated little toes — but nobody was taking into account the fact that those hairs don’t act alone. They’re operated in conjunction with the gecko’s skin, tendons and bones, in a flexible unit that changes to adapt to whatever surface it’s covering.

gecko foot

Well, the science has come along considerably! Introducing Geckskin, courtesy of the labs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst:

“Our Geckskin device is about 16 inches square [10 cm on a side], about the size of an index card, and can hold a maximum force of about 700 pounds [317.5 kilograms] while adhering to a smooth surface such as glass.”

Beyond its impressive sticking ability, the device can be released with negligible effort and reused many times with no loss of effectiveness. For example, it can be used to stick a 42-inch television to a wall, released with a gentle tug and restuck to another surface as many times as needed, leaving no residue.

[…] The key innovation by Bartlett and colleagues was to create an integrated adhesive with a soft pad woven into a stiff fabric, which allows the pad to “drape” over a surface to maximize contact. Further, as in natural gecko feet, the skin is woven into a synthetic “tendon,” yielding a design that plays a key role in maintaining stiffness and rotational freedom, the researchers explain.

Cool. When can I have some? Our TV is only 35 inches; that should be a snap to hang.

Photos of gecko and foot courtesy of Wikipedia.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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2 Responses to Gecko adhesive

  1. Lilaine says:

    Cool 🙂
    Kudos to those researchers/scientists! 🙂
    Next step: commercialization, and soon a swarm of Spidermen climbing up everywhere at Halloween. 😮

    The work was supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

    Or maybe Geckommandos? 😉
    Btw, baby(or very young) geckos are among the cutest, softest, coolest beings on the planet. 😀
    Sylvestre agrees… 😛

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