UMass Amherst Researchers Create Super-Adhesive Material Based on Gecko Feet
February 17, 2012 10:46 AM
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Feet so sticky even dead geckos still hang around
A 16-inch square holds 700 pounds on a vertical surface
For many people, the only time thoughts of geckos come to mind is likely when a commercial for a certain insurance company comes on TV. Geckos have feet that would allow the tiny little 5-ounce lizard haul 9 pounds straight up flat wall, assuming the lizard was buff enough. That is a major amount of adhesive force generated from a tiny surface.
A study of the gecko and its amazingly sticky feet has led the team of polymer scientists and biologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to invent material called Geckskin. The Geckskin material is able to hold 700 pounds on a smooth wall. The research team included doctoral candidate Michael Bartlett, and biologists Duncan Irschick. Irschick has studied the gecko and its ability to cling to surfaces for over two decades. The gecko in the wild is able to climb vertical, slanted, and surfaces that are backwards tilted with no problem.
"Amazingly, gecko feet can be applied and disengaged with ease, and with no sticky residue remaining on the surface," Irschick says. These properties, high-capacity, reversibility and dry adhesion offer a tantalizing possibility for synthetic materials that can easily attach and detach heavy everyday objects such as televisions or computers to walls, as well as medical and industrial applications, among others, he and Crosby say.
The Geckskin device that the group of researchers created is 16-inches square being roughly the size of an index card. Crosby says, "Our Geckskin device is about 16 inches square, about the size of an index card, and can hold a maximum force of about 700 pounds while adhering to a smooth surface such as glass."
Despite the fact that the 16-inch square can hold 700 pounds on a surface as smooth as glass, it can be released with little effort and reused many times with no loss of effectiveness. Once removed, the Geckskin also leaves behind no residue. The team says that you could use the Geckskin to hold a 42-inch flatscreen TV to your wall and be able to release that TV with a simple tug and then stick it back on the surface repeatedly.
Prior attempts to re-create the sticky gecko feet focused on microscopic hairs on the toes of the gecko called setae. Those previous attempts failed to re-create sticking power of the gecko foot. The group the researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have been able to use a "simple and elegant" method to recreate sticking power.
"It’s a concept that has not been considered in other design strategies and one that may open up new research avenues in gecko-like adhesion in the future," said Crosby.
The research team says one of the key innovations was the ability to create an adhesive with a soft pad that is woven into a stiff fabric. That design allows the product to drape over a surface for maximum contact while maintaining the stiffness and rotational freedom needed. The researchers are working on improving the material now.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
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RE: Not with kids around...
2/17/2012 2:25:33 PM
Actually, and thankfully, there's a lot on the work.
The key was not "microhairs" like most people had been pursuing. Apparently, that's more of a red herring feature of Gecko feet than an actual critical aspect (though useful for over all stickiness). What was critical was having a soft adhesive pad woven into a much stiffer fabric material with an artificial "tendon" creating tension. This causes the adhesive to "drape" against the vertical surface, and accommodate an immense amount of force--as we can see from their results on glass.
It is incredibly impressive, and nothing I was expecting! The entire key is the "tendon" structure. That also allows it to be disengaged easily, as releasing the tendon will unstick the pad.
They also described it kinda like this: the soft adhesive pad is like the scales on the bottom of the feet, the stiff fabric it's woven into is like the muscles and bones, and the "tendon" is like the tendons.
The exact details of this "tendon" are unknown to me though, so I'm not sure what it is; but it's been called their "secret sauce".
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