Airdate: Oct 20, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Ron Fearing
KSC Biomimicry - Adhesive Cloth
To develop a fabric that can adhere to any surface, scientists are looking to geckos for clues.
Time to clean your gutters? Well, forget the ladder. One day, all you might need are some gecko gloves! I’m Jim Metzner, and this it the Pulse of the Planet. Geckos’ foot pads have millions of tiny hairs that attract on a molecular level to virtually any surface. Ron Fearing is an engineer at UC Berkeley. Collaborating with scientists who study gecko biology, he’s been developing materials that can function like the pads of a gecko’s feet.
RF: “We’re trying to duplicate this and make synthetic structures in the lab that’ll work as well as the real gecko. We can make structures out of plastics which will have millions or hundreds of millions of fibers per square centimeter, and what we see is that when we attach these to very smooth surfaces, we can see some significant adhesive forces.”
So if you want to climb a glass wall, Ron Fearing’s current prototype might just work. For everything else, however, the science is still evolving.
RF: “What happens is if you’re touching a surface which is rough or has bumps on it, sometimes the bumps push you away from the surface, so it’s hard to make contact with all of those hundreds of millions of fibers making contact simultaneously. And the gecko has a wonderful structure that lets it attach to surfaces whether they’re rough or smooth, but when we try to do that with our own system that we’re making, we don’t have all the levels of complexity that the gecko has. Gecko has nanofibers on top of microfibers on top of soft, flat structures on top of toes on top of feet. And we have a very simple structure, which is just an array of, basically, vertical fibers on a flat backing. So we’re getting there.”
Ron Fearing is one of the participants in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Check out KidScienceChallenge.com. I’m Jim Metzner.