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Hanging on by a Hair

December 15, 2003

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    Kellar Autumn Assistant Professor of Biology

The gecko’s remarkable climbing ability has puzzled scientific minds for centuries—until now, that is.
Assistant Professor of Biology Kellar Autumn and a team of biologists and engineers have cracked the molecular secrets of the gecko’s unsurpassed sticking power—opening the door for engineers to fabricate prototypes of synthetic gecko adhesive.
Working at Lewis & Clark College, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Stanford University, the interdisciplinary team:

  • Confirmed speculation that the gecko’s amazing climbing ability depends on weak molecular attractive forces called van der Waals forces.
  • Rejected a competing model based on the adhesion chemistry of water molecules.
  • Discovered that the gecko’s adhesive depends on geometry, not surface chemistry. In other words, the size and shape of the tips of gecko foot hairs—not what they are made of—determine the gecko’s stickiness.


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