The holy grail of adhesives?

A gecko-inspired adhesive from a University of Massachusetts research team can hold up to 700 pounds on a sheet the size of an index card.

UMass is not the first institution to look to the gecko and its remarkable powers of adhesion. A team from Berkeley announced a gecko-inspired nonskid surface back in 2006. “I can list maybe 20 other people” heading up similar work, says UMass researcher Al Crosby.

Most of that work, however, has focused on the hair on the bottom of the gecko’s feet. Called setae, these hairs are only part of the reason why the gecko, among other species, can use adhesion to move along walls and ceilings.

“In order for something this large to use adhesion,” Crosby says, “its tendons are stitched right into its skin. And so you have the tendon, which is very stiff tissue, connected to the skin and the setae. That direct connection is critical. Without that, the gecko could not use adhesion. This direct integration is what we ended up mimicking in Geckskin.

“What we really wanted to focus on is scaling up the properties and attributes that a gecko displays,” he says. “Being able to sustain a high load on a vertical or overhanging surface. To release that upon command with minimal force. And to be able to do this over and over and over again with minimal energy loss.

“These are the attributes that we focused on and we found that this skin tendon connection was really one of the most enabling features,” he says.

The properties of the resulting Geckskin technology could hold huge, industry-disrupting potential.

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