Geckos are lizards with amazing stickiness, thanks to millions of tiny hairs that line their feet. Host Steve Curwood talks with Andre Geim, a scientist at the University of Manchester, who has modeled a dry adhesive tape on the gecko’s extraordinary ability.
CURWOOD: Geckos are lizards with the astounding ability to stick to any surface. They can cling to a glass ceiling with just a single toe. Now, scientists have modeled a new tape on the gecko and produced an amazingly adhesive product. André Geim heads the project at the University of Manchester. Professor Geim, what makes the gecko so sticky?
GEIM: Their toes are covered by millions and millions of very small hairs. Each hair produces a very small, minute force, but when all those forces from millions of hairs has added up, then you get a very large stickiness, a formidable force.
| Gecko upside down on a glass window (Photo: Professor Andre Geim)
CURWOOD: Tell me exactly how you recreated in your laboratory the gecko’s ability to stick to walls.
GEIM: Well, initially, after actually a few weeks, we make the sort of hairs on a rock-solid substrate, they didn’t stick at all. So we had to spend a couple of years to learn how to put the tape on a flexible substrate, so to force all billions of hairs we have on our tape to work in unison, collectively. The problem is that any surface, however you believe it’s smooth, it has bumps, it has dust on the surface. Therefore, not only hairs of geckos are flexible; also their fingers, toes are flexible to attach to the whole surface at the same time.
CURWOOD: When you think in the year ahead of the gecko tape being used, how do you fantasize it might be used?
GEIM: For the moment, all possibilities are open. You can imagine even gecko gloves for rock climbers or window cleaners. But we have to see what would be the final material, what would be its characteristics, its cost before deciding about any particular application.
CURWOOD: So if I wanted to be Spiderman, how well would your tape work for me?
GEIM: For the Spiderman, it’s probably a bad reference, because Spiderman, he’s supposedly using mechanism which is based on spiders-- tackiness. This mechanism, I believe, is not scalable. You can stick only small insects using this mechanism; while geckos use a completely different mechanism. And it’s our contribution to this area that we have shown that Geckoman is a possibility. It’s no longer science fiction, unlike the Spiderman, which probably remains forever in comics and in Hollywood.
CURWOOD: André Geim is a professor of condensed matter physics at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Thanks for explaining your research to us.
[MUSIC: Stevie Ray Vaughan “Voodoo Chili” Couldn’t Stand the Weather - Epic (1984)]
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