Gecko foot adhering to GaAs semiconductor, demonstrating van der Waals adhesion (Photo by K. Autumn)
Forget about duct tape. Just grab the ’gecko glue’
Geckos, nature’s supreme climbers, can race up a polished glass wall at a meter per second and support their entire body weight from a wall with only a single toe. But the gecko’s remarkable climbing ability has remained a mystery since Artistotle first observed it in fourth century B.C.
Now a team of biologists and engineers has cracked the molecular secrets of the gecko’s unsurpassed sticking power--opening the door for engineers to fabricate prototypes of synthetic gecko adhesive.
To verify its experimental and theoretical results, the gecko group then used its new data to fabricate prototype synthetic foot-hair tips from two different materials.
"Both artificial setal tips stuck as predicted," notes Autumn, assistant professor of biology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. "Our initial prototypes open the door to manufacturing the first biologically inspired dry, adhesive microstructures, which can have widespread applications."
The project required an interdisciplinary team, according to Autumn. Engineers Ronald Fearing and Metin Siiti at the University of California at Berkeley built prototype synthetic gecko foot-hair tips that stick like the real thing. Engineer Jacob Israelachvili at the University of California at Santa Barbara provided the mathematics that led to the prototype’s design. Other team members include biologist Robert Full at the University of California at Berkeley and engineer Thomas Kenny of Stanford University.
Van der Waals force vs. capillary adhesion
The team tested two competing hypotheses: one based on van der Waals force and a second on capillary (water-based) adhesion.
"Our results provide the first direct experimental verification that a short-range molecular attraction called van der Waals force is definitely what makes geckos stick," Autumn emphasizes.
Van der Waals forces, named after a Dutch physicist of the late 1800s, are weak electrodynamic forces that operate over very small distances but bond to nearly any material.
Geckos have millions of setae--microscopic hairs on the bottom of their feet. These tiny setae are only as long as two diameters of a human hair. That’s 100 millionth of a meter long. Each seta ends with 1,000 even tinier pads at the tip. These tips, called spatulae, are only 200 billionths of a meter wide--below the wavelength of visible light.
"Intermolecular forces come into play because the gecko foot hairs split and allow a billion spatulae to increase surface density and come into close contact with the surface. This creates a strong adhesive force," says Autumn.
A single seta can lift the weight of an ant. A million setae, which could easily fit onto the area of a dime, could lift a 45-pound child. If a gecko used all of its setae at the same time, it could support 280 pounds.
"Our previous research suggested that van der Waals force could explain gecko adhesion. But we couldn’t rule out water adsorption or some other types of water interaction. With our new data, we can finally disprove a 30-year-old theory based on the adhesion of water molecules."
The team’s previous research ruled out two other possible forms of adhesion: suction and chemical bonding.
Geometry vs. chemistry
"The van der Waals theory predicts we can enhance adhesion--just as nature has--simply by subdividing a surface into small protrusions to increase surface density," Autumn explains. "It also suggests that a possible design principle underlies the repeated, convergent evolution of dry adhesive microstructures in geckos, anoles, skinks, and insects. Basically, Mother Nature is packing a whole bunch of tiny things into a given area."
If van der Waals adhesion determines setal force, then geometry and not the material make-up that should dictate the design of setae, the team predicted.
Jacob Israelachvili at the University of California at Santa Barbara applied a mathematical model--the Johnson-Kendall-Roberts theory of adhesion--to predict the size and shape of the setae.
Ronald Fearing at the University of California at Berkeley took the empirical results and nanofabricated synthetic foot-hair tips from two different materials.
"We confirmed it’s geometry, not surface chemistry, that enables a gecko to support its entire body with a single toe," Autumn says.
"This means we don’t need to mimic biology precisely," he explains. "We can apply the underlying principles and create a similar adhesive by breaking a surface into small bumps. These preliminary physical models provide proof that humans can fabricate synthetic gecko adhesive," he says.
"The artificial foot-hair tip model opens the door to manufacturing dry, self-cleaning adhesive that works under water and in a vacuum," according to Autumn, who foresees countless applications for synthetic gecko adhesive--from vacuum areas of clean rooms to outer space.
Programming cells with computer-like logic
27.07.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
Identified the component that allows a lethal bacteria to spread resistance to antibiotics
27.07.2017 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Health and Medicine