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Gecko Feet Inspire a New Adhesive

Words by Leon Kaye

The latest innovation inspired by biomimicry is an adhesive inspired by the power of gecko feet. Tenants who have lost their security deposits because of holes left in apartment walls will be thrilled to learn that this invention has the ability to support up to 700 pounds on a smooth wall.

A group of polymer scientists and biologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed what they call “Geckskin.” Anyone enjoying the sight of geckos deftly running up and down walls without slipping will appreciate the strength of this adhesive without any sticky residue.

Among the researchers is Duncan Irschick, a functional morphologist who has studied the antics of geckos for more than 20 years. He noted that geckos land and take off surfaces with upmost ease, without leaving any residue behind. Working with PhD candidate Michael Bartlett and professor Alfred Crosby, the team set out to develop synthetic materials to allow heavy objects like televisions to be affixed and then be removed from walls. The result is a device that is 16 inches square and can hold up to 700 pounds.

Previous studies of gecko feet and their amazing capabilities focused on setae, microscopic hairs on their toes. But the Amherst team realized that the whole complexity of the gecko foot must be taken into account when creating a device for everyday consumer and industrial use. The outcome was an adhesive embedded with a soft pad integrated into a stiff fabric that drapes over a surface for maximum adhesion. The material uses polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based organic polymer that is similar to an agent in a bevy of products from Silly Putty to Chicken McNuggets.

So before we rage into a debate over safety, the important lesson coming out of Amherst is how once again, biomimicry is changing how scientists, product designers architects and even military researchers are changing the world.

And never mind the fact that the installation of those ridiculously sized televisions and clunky bookshelves is about to get easier.

Leon Kaye is a journalist, sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter. He is still on the fence whether Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is a shining example of biomimicry.

Photo courtesy University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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