Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Gecko Fingers: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Jan 07, 2010
Scientist: Dr. Ron Fearing

Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Gecko Fingers

Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Gecko Fingers
A gecko's ability to adhere to surfaces is leading to advances in manmade materials. Gecko tires, anyone?


music; sfx tire slipping

RF: If we can put gecko adhesives on car tires, the tires then won't be so slippery on ice and snow.

JM: Winter is here. And soon you'll be able to swap out your all-seasons for a good set of gecko inspired tires. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. A gecko's ability to run quickly on a vertical surface has everything to do with the millions of microscopic hairs on the bottoms of its toes. When climbing and dragging its toes, a gecko increases the surface area of those hairs, amplifying attraction and grip on a molecular level. By rolling the toe hairs back up again, surface area decreases, and the gecko can release its foot quickly and easily. Ron Fearing is an engineer at the University of California; he tells us that gecko tires are in the works, and he's already developed gecko-inspired tape based on these principles.

RF: So we make the nano-fibers by melting plastic into really small holes and then removing the fibers. You don't think of plastic as sticky, but when we convert it into 40 million plastic fibers per square centimeter, we get enough contact area that it starts to adhere.

JM: Ron wraps his finger in a kind of gecko glove and demonstrates, using a piece of glass.

RF: So, this is a gecko hair fingertip. It can hold things at very sharp angles that you couldn't hold without the gecko hairs. So, for example, if I turn the finger over, this is exactly the same material, but it's clear 'cause they don't have the hairs on it. That's just plain plastic. And if I try to hold something up, it just slides right off.

JM: Ron Fearing is one of the participants in this year's Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Can you dream up a bio-inspired invention? Well, check out