The Energy of Innovation at The University of Akron

Geckos as inspiration for innovation and new adhesives

Stick. Without the sticky.

Ever watch a gecko scamper across a floor, up a wall, and across a ceiling? University of Akron researchers, fascinated by gecko feet forces that allow such movement, have developed synthetic materials with similar adhesive properties. Just as geckos use adhesive properties in the millions of hairs on their feet to stick to a surface (sideways or upside down), and move easily, a newly developed adhesive tape can be applied to a surface, stick reliably, be removed and reapplied endlessly.

The forces created by the millions of hairs on gecko feet act like a glue-less adhesive system. “We use tiny carbon-based materials, called carbon nanotubes, that are a thousand times smaller than human hair, to mimic the hairs on gecko feet,” explains Dr. Ali Dhinojwala, chair of the UA Department of Polymer Science and Morton Professor of Polymer Science. “We make these nanotubes into a layer of material, put them on plastics, and create flexible tapes that you can stick to a wall, peel off, and use again and again.”

These nanotubes produce adhesive forces significantly stronger than that of normal adhesives, establishing sturdy binding and easy lifting that simulate gecko capabilities. The discovery of carbon nanotubes with extraordinary gripping power has opened opportunities for advancements in microelectronics, medicine, robotics and common objects to improve everyday life. Someday, people might even have gloves or shoes that will enable them to climb mountains, walls, and cling to ceilings.

The dry adhesives promise successful use in extreme atmospheric and temperature conditions and other applications that present challenges for liquid adhesives, according to Dr. Dhinojwala. “They can be used in space, where there is a vacuum. Think of using this adhesive on a robot that needs to navigate the uneven terrain on Mars. Like a gecko, this robot can adhere to or move quickly across, up and over any surface.” 

Another commercial application for the carbon nanotubes is as a coating on microprocessors to absorb heat and keep computers cooler. This product will allow miniaturized computer systems to work more quickly and efficiently by reducing the effects of heat build-up.

“Gecko-based adhesives could be reused thousands of times over,” Dhinojwala says. “These remarkable adhesives show tremendous potential for improving technology and lives across the globe, even beyond this planet.” 

Energy of Innovation home

UA facultyTell us about your innovation and research.

Interview with Dr. Ali Dhinojwala

The advantages of dry adhesives versus wet

Geckos' glueless system for sticking to surfaces

Broad range of uses for future, gecko-inspiring adhesives

Adhesive research and the benefits for space travel

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