Points of Disinterest: Episode 10

Whoh! Double digits! Anyway, today I’m going to talk about Gecko tape. Scientists over at the university of Kiel have made some tape that mimics the foot of a Gecko. This is something that I wrote about for The Artifact directly in The Fringe but hint at the technology being used by the Kerdi.

So why a gecko’s foot? Are they interested in low rates for car insurance? No, they’re interested in the gecko’s other super power. They can walk on walls and even hang upside down on flat surfaces. They can do this on smooth surfaces like glass even when wet. For decades this puzzled scientists. How could the gecko do this with no sticky substance on their toes? How was no glue left behind? Their feet were sticky without having anything that would make them sticky. The gecko can walk over dirt and dust and not have it affect their ability to walk on walls. Something funny was going on.

Studying the foot pads under an electron microscope revealed tiny hairs that split into even smaller hairs called setae. The number of these setae and the increase in surface area allows the electromechanical Van der Waals force, which is normally very weak at large scales exert a much stronger attraction. It also allows the pads to be pulled away and then re-attached many times. Geckos probably grow more setae as theirs wear out.

I seriously thought this “gecko tape” had already been made. Maybe it was in very small quantities before now. There have been some robots that used “gecko pads” to climb walls so I’m not sure why this is big news. The Kiel group seem to be the first to produce a patch of tape big enough to hang the weight of a human from 400 square cm of tape. If you wanted to make a Spiderman suit, a patch of tape 10 cm x 13 cm on all four limbs (allowing one limb to be moved) would keep you up. That’s a workable proposition.

I’m waiting for my gecko suit.

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