Nanotechnology For The Sticky Feet Of Geckos: Cool Stuff

Nature is amazing. There are so many things that we can learn from other creatures, including animals like a gecko. Who does not know gecko, right? It is one of the common animals that we use to see, especially after they become one of an option for a reptile pet just like any other common household pet.

Geckos inspired human with its ability to stick to the wall vertically. They even can hang on the ceiling, defy the gravity like a superhero. Studies after studies have shown that this ability is coming from microscopic hairs on their toes, which is called setae, a nanoscale attachment elements that not every animal have it. Geckos, for the record, are the heaviest animal that can support their own bodies or stand on a ceiling with their feet over their head. Sounds cool, right? So our scientists keep on researching about an adaptation for this adhesive system with tiny hairs just like in gecko’s toes.

Nanotechnology For The Sticky Feet Of Geckos: Cool Stuff

We keep on dreaming to have a superpower, including the power to stick and climb, or even walk on a wall vertically like spiderman. Good news is, we can adapt it from gecko’s toes! But the bad news is we still figure out how. 

What do we get so far?

What we know is that billions of tiny adhesive hairs that are no more than hundreds of nanometers in size are responsible in the stickiness of geckos. And it is not working as a glue or stickers, but instead, the gecko can control their stickiness on and off easily. Turns out, the hairs are not only strong enough to inject a huge amount of forces but also super flexible that it can bend and change its angle so the toes can detach from the surface. 

So that is where we are going: adapt an artificial dry adhesive system from hairy stuff that can stick to many surfaces, from glass, windows, or even mirror. Sounds pretty wild, but cool at the same time, right? (remember that dreaming about a phone without a cable used to be an absurd idea but now everyone has a smartphone!)

Are we there yet?

Well, thanks to researches, because we keep on getting near to become a spiderman! Researchers at the Max Planck Institute have discovered that there is a possibility of an optimal shape of the contact surface of hairs tip that can give an optimal adhesion from molecular interaction forces. But the shape design can be a challenge because of how small it has to be. For short, an optimal adhesion is possible with an optimal combination of size reduction and shape optimization. The study’s result found the reason why the size of hairy attachment usually comes in the nanometer or micrometer sizes and suggested guidelines for designing adhesive structures in engineering. 

Well, that sounds good enough. Do we have more?

Yes, we do! The research is continued after a year and discovered that there is a correlation between gecko’s adhesive ability with humidity level. Turns out, the adhesive system was actually dry, or it did not secret or produce anything of its own but instead, it uses water in the form of a thin layer on every surface. Scientists then developed a biomimetic structure with an excellent adhesive quality, where the material allows it to stick to a surface without any adhesives! Just like how gecko’s feet works, it does not leave any visible marks or footprints. The material can also hold a weigh up to one hundred grams on the wall which is an impressive achievement. However, there is still a limitation on the experiments about the smoothness of the surface’s structures. Structures like glass or polished wood are one of the good bases, but not for woodchip wallpaper that turns out not that suitable for this artificial adhesive system. The new potential material will soon be found in the process so we can go far beyond what we have achieved until today. Thanks to the researchers and scientists!

Is there any possible application from the research?

From here, the result opened up a lot of possibility in technology, like to innovate an adhesive tape for climbing robots, for example.

There is also another new experiment that mimics gecko’s feet ability to stick on and off from a surface that is made of millions of synthetic fiber. These fibers help to support almost a pound of weight and unlike any others tape, it can get even stronger along with the use. In the future, we may have climbing equipment, some medical devices, or any other possible application from this research. Who knows, right?

Again, there are so many things that we can learn from other creatures, like animals, even for a small friend like a gecko. Geckos show us a lot of affection as they are one of the most popular reptile pet with the exoticness of their skin colors and patterns, but also give us knowledge, and even ideas for technology that we can adapt to help our daily tasks. The study is still far from complete, but we have achieved one or two things studies that open up a lot of possibilities that we can try in the future. Learning is a lifetime process, right? As we get to know more about gecko itself, we also learn a lot of new stuff that we can adapt to our future technologies!

So our dear animal lovers, let’s thank the mother natures for giving us a lot of knowledge by taking care of our earth and its ecosystem. We know that we cannot be the only creature in here, right? Look around us! Not only geckos that inspire us, but also other creatures like a dragonfly, bees, spider, and even a little tiny beetle! What can we do without mother nature, really?