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July 26, 2006

Learning From Geckos Science/Technology

Taking a little respite from the world's troubles. Here's a cool little tech story. BBC:

Just one metre square of a new super-sticky material inspired by gecko feet could suspend the weight of an average family car, say its inventors. [...]

Like the reptile's foot, the polymer is covered in millions of tiny mushroom-like hairs that provide grip.

Future applications could include an adhesive to repair aircraft, skin grafts or even a Spiderman-style suit.

"It would mean that your local window cleaner could dispense with his ladders and climb up the side of your house," says Dr Sajad Haq a principle research scientist at the company's Advanced Technology Centre in Filton, Bristol.

"There's a whole host of applications. It's just a question of your imagination." [...]

The cumulative attractive force of billions of setae allows geckos to scurry up walls and even hang upside down on polished glass.

The grip is only released when the animal peels its foot off the surface. [...]

Although the material has fantastic adhesive properties it does not feel "sticky".

"It's only when you press the material to the substrate that it actually sticks," says Dr Haq. "It's the molecular interaction that causes it to stick." [...]

So far, the team have manufactured several different materials with different sized mushrooms to try to optimise its "stickiness".

They have produced several samples up to 100mm in diameter which stick to almost any surface, including those covered in dirt.

However the team cannot quite match the performance of the nimble footed reptile.

"The material we have made so far will hold a family car to a roof, or an elephant if you wish," says Dr Haq. "[But we're] not quite at the level of mimicking the sticking power of the gecko." [Emphasis added]

The adhesion involves no liquids or gases, so it can be used in the vacuum of space.

The technologies for studying and manipulating materials at nano scales are developing at exponential rates, so we can expect lots more of these kinds of stories. Nature has had a very long time to find optimal solutions to problems, and humanity increasingly is in a position to capitalize on Nature's "intellectual property".

[Thanks, Maurice]

Posted by Jonathan at July 26, 2006 02:28 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb