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New Adhesive Breakthrough Based on Gecko Toes

Scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara have developed a reusable dry adhesive by studying the mechanics of Gecko toes. Kimberly Turner, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university, said that they had been working on the issue for almost eight years.

Turner said that the gecko’s use of Van der Waals forces interested scientists because of their ability to stick and unstick rapidly on different types of materials, in particular extraordinarily smooth surfaces.

The reusable dry adhesive developed by Turner and her team is made from a completely new silicon-based material called polydimethylsiloxane (‘PDMS’). The substance mimics the effect of the Gecko’s toe better than any other substance developed in the past. The adhesive sticks to smooth surfaces and has a strong adhesive power when pushed upon in a forward direction. It can also be unstuck quickly when pulled backwards.

The adhesive’s properties are the result of an angled photolithography technique developed by Turner and her colleagues. The team found that the adhesive kept as much as 77 per cent of its stickiness after 10,000 test cycles. After some improvements, Turner believes that new adhesive could be used for mounting items like electronics and paintings to walls, and for robot assembly.

Despite great results, the gecko’s toes continue to outperform anything that can be currently developed, including this new adhesive.