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A (Clean) Grip on Geckos

December 12, 2005

Duct tape that never loses its stick. Bandages that come off without sticky residue or an “ouch.” Gecko feet may hold the key to the development of synthetic self-cleaning adhesives, according to Kellar Autumn, associate professor of biology. His research, recently published in the Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, has been featured in the New York Times and Scientific American, as well as on MSNBC and CBC Radio News (Canada).

“How geckos manage to keep their feet clean while walking about with sticky feet has remained a puzzle until now,” says Autumn. “Geckos don’t groom their feet, and the adhesive on their toes is much too sticky for dirt to be shaken off. conventional adhesives like tape just get dirtier and dirtier, but we discovered that gecko feet actually become cleaner with repeated use.”

Autumn’s new research shows that the microscopic adhesive hairs, or setae, that create the gecko’s adhesive qualities are also the first known self-cleaning adhesive.

“Our mathematical models suggest that self-cleaning in gecko setae is a result of geometry, not chemistry,” says Autumn. “This means that synthetic self-cleaning adhesives could be fabricated from a wide variety of materials. The possibilities for future applications of a dry, self-cleaning adhesive are enormous. We envision uses for our discovery ranging from nanosurgery to aerospace applications. Who knows—maybe a gecko-inspired robot with sticky, self-cleaning feet will walk on the dusty surface of Mars someday.”

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