Gecko-inspired adhesive

Researchers at the University of Dayton claim to have developed a gecko-inspired adhesive that is ten times stronger than a gecko, at about 100 Newtons per square centimetre.

The gecko’s ability to stick to surfaces and walk up walls has inspired many researchers to manufacture materials that mimic the surface of a gecko’s foot.

Now, Liming Dai from the University of Daytonand his colleagues claim to have developed a gecko-inspired adhesive that is ten times stronger than a gecko, at about 100 Newtons per square centimetre.

The secret behind the gecko’s ability to stick so well is a forest of pillars on the underside of its foot.

Because there are so many pillars so close together, they are held tightly to the surface the gecko is walking on by a molecular force called the Van der Waals force.

To mimic the functionality of the gecko foot, the Dayton researchers constructed their adhesive out of two slightly different layers of multi-walled carbon nanotubes.

The lower layer is composed of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes, while the upper segment, which comes into contact with the surface it is sticking to, is curly, like a mess of spaghetti.

The adhesive sticks best when it is pulled down parallel to the surface it is sticking to; this is called shear adhesion.

This action arranges the tips of the curly nanotubes so they have maximum contact with the substrate, thereby maximising the Van der Waals force.

Pulling the adhesive off in a motion perpendicular to the substrate is much easier, as at this angle the sticking force is ten times weaker.

In this way, the adhesive has strong shear adhesion for firm attachment and relatively weak adhesion for detachment perpendicularly to the substrate.

Just like a gecko, the adhesive can stick to a wall when needed and then lift off easily to take the next step.

This breakthrough was supported by the US National Science Foundation.