Human adhesives are famed for their fallibility. Gooey glues soon lose their grip, are easily contaminated and leave residues behind. But not gecko feet. Geckos can cling on repeatedly to the smoothest surfaces thanks to the self-cleaning microscopic spatula-shaped hairs (setae) that coat the soles of their feet.
Back in 2002, Kellar Autumn found that these dry hairs are in such intimate contact with surfaces that the reptiles 'glue' themselves on by van der Waals forces with no need for fluid adhesives. More recent studies had suggested that geckos might benefit from additional adhesion in humid environments through capillary action provided by microscopic droplets of water sandwiched between setae and the surface.
But Autumn wasn't so sure, so he and his lab at Lewis and Clark College and the University of Washington, USA, began testing gecko grip to find out how increasing humidity helps them hold tight Autumn publishes his team's discovery that humidity helps geckos grip tighter by softening the surface of their feet on 15 October 2010 in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.
Knowing that geckos replace lost setae when they moult, Autumn, his postdoc Jonathan Puthoff, and Matt Wilkinson collected patches of the 'sticky' hairs from gecko feet and attached them to a mechanical testing device, known as 'Robotoe', that reproduces the way the reptile drags its foot as it contacts a surface. Dragging the setae across two surfaces (one that repelled water and another that attracted water) at different velocities and in environments ranging from 10% to 80% humidity, the team tested whether microscopic water bridges formed in high humidity were helping the geckos hang on.
They reasoned that if the reptiles were using microscopic water bridges then the setae would bond more tightly to the surface that attracted water than the surface that repelled water. But when they measured the setae's adhesion and friction it was essentially the same on the two surfaces. And when the team compared the adhesion of setae that were moving too fast to form water bridges with that of slowly moving feet that could possibly form water bridges, there was no difference. The geckos were not supplementing their van der Waals attachment forces with capillary forces from water bridges. So how were they holding on tighter?
Graduate student Michael Prowse decided to take a closer look at the material properties of the reptile's feet. Knowing that setae are composed of keratin and keratin is softened by high humidity, Autumn wondered whether having softer setae could improve the reptiles' contact with surfaces and increase their van der Waals adhesion. The team decided to measure the setae's softness and how it changed as the humidity rose.
Repeatedly stretching and releasing a strip of setae at three different rates (0.5, 5 and 10 Hz) in environments ranging from 10% to 80% humidity, Autumn's team measured the force transmitted through the strip to calculate the strip's elastic modulus – how much elastic energy is stored – to see how it changed. As the humidity rose, the elastic modulus decreased by 75% and the strip of setae became softer. So the strip of setae became more deformable as the humidity rose, but could the increased softness explain the gecko's improved attachment under damp conditions?
Puthoff built a mathematical model to see if softer, more deformable, setae could explain the gecko's improved attachment at high humidity and found that it did. Not only did increased softness strengthen the contact between the setae and the surface but also it made it easier for the reptile to peel its foot off. So instead of improving gecko's attachment through microscopic bridges, higher humidity softens the setae that coat the reptile's feet to help them hold fast and peel free with ease.
IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org
REFERENCE: Puthoff, J. B., Prowse, M. S., Wilkinson, M. and Autumn, K. (2010). Changes in materials properties explain the effects of humidity on gecko adhesion. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 3699-3704.
This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT email@example.com
New risk factors for anxiety disorders
24.02.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers
24.02.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News