Brussels, 02 Jun 2003
Researchers from the UK have developed a new type of adhesive that uses microscopic plastic fibres to cling to surfaces such as glass. The discovery could soon allow humans to climb walls in the same gravity defying method as the gecko lizards that inspired the design.
Three years ago, scientists discovered that geckos were able to perform amazing climbing feats, such as hanging from ceilings by a single foot, due to the presence of billions of tiny hairs on each toe, which create the so called van de Walls forces needed to 'glue' the feet to a surface.
Now, a team from the University of Manchester has mimicked the design and created a postage stamp sized piece of adhesive tape covered in millions of plastic 'hairs'. They demonstrated the tape's effectiveness by using it to stick a toy Spiderman to the underside of a glass plate for several hours by only one hand.
'Gecko feet are optimised for sticking through evolution,' says Andre Geim, head of the team at Manchester that developed the tape. 'We have [...] considered producing a large amount of gecko tape - sufficient amounts to enable a student to hang out of a window of a tall building. However it would cost too much money, and would not benefit us scientifically, so we have limited our demonstration to the gecko toy.'
Due to the complexity of creating millions of plastic hairs scarcely two thousandths of a millimetre tall, a one metre squared piece of the tape would cost Professor Geim and his team tens of thousands of euros to produce, so the search is underway for a cost effective method of mass production.
The potential applications of the material are numerous. It could be used as an effective surgical tape, help give car tyres more grip, and even enable pictures to be hung without leaving any marks. But for many people, like those members of Professor Geim's team that apparently volunteered to test the tape personally by hanging from the laboratory window, the first use that springs to mind is the development of 'gecko gloves', allowing a person to climb walls and ceilings like the lizard that inspired the material.
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