Scientists at BAE Systems have created an artificial surface that grips incredibly tightly without glue or pressure. The company claims a sheet of this material just over one metre square could be used to suspend the weight of an average family car.
Called Synthetic Gecko, the new adhesive is inspired by the gecko lizard.
“We wanted to mimic this ability”, said Jeff Sargent, research physicist at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology Centre. “We recognised that a synthetic material could have tremendous engineering potential not only in our own aerospace and defence businesses, but also in other commercial applications.”
The gecko gets its ability to stick without glue from the soles of its feet which are patterned with millions of tiny hairs with split ends. At the tip of each split is a mushroom shaped cap less than one-thousandth of a millimetre across. These ensure the gecko’s toes are always in very close contact with the surface beneath – so close that molecular forces of attraction create the grip. The grip is released by a peeling action when the animal lifts its foot to break the bond.
Using their micro-engineering clean room facilities, BAE Systems’ scientists, led by Jeff Sargent and Sajad Haq, created layers comprising thousands of microscopic polyimide stalks with splayed tips, closely resembling the mushroom headed hairs on a gecko’s feet.
The next step in the development programme comprises further research into the influence of surface roughness and water on the adhesive properties of the material, to ensure that it is effective on a wide range of surface roughness.
A number of potential business applications for Gecko have been identified, ranging from instant repair patches for holed structures such as fuel tanks and aircraft skins, access panels without fasteners or even the rapid attachment of armour panels.
Synthetic Gecko could also be used for new building materials, personal safety harnesses and for super grip tyres and training shoes.