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Airdate: Jan 15, 2010
Scientist: Bob Full

Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Unexpected Adhesion

Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Unexpected Adhesion
By way of an accidental discovery, engineers are now developing "sticky" material based on the properties of a gecko's toes.

Transcript:
music; ambience

BF: What we really wanted to know is how in the world can they run up a wall so quickly? We were just curious.

JM: When Bob Full first began studying how geckos move, he wasn't thinking about designing a new adhesive. But contemplating nature's designs can result in unexpected applications. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

BF: We were just asking questions about how they might work, and it's important to know that those questions, you never know quite where they can lead. And they can lead to things that are really surprising that you can use to help you and to design new things.

JM: Bob Full is a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkley. He observed that geckos climb walls by way of attraction. Millions of microscopic hairs on a gecko's toes act like a kind of magnet on climbing surfaces, and Bob Full's team is now developing synthetic materials that work on the same principle.

BF: Imagine having a cup that you have it on the bottom, and you put it down and twist it, and you can't knock it over, but when you want to get it off, you just peel it off, like they peel their toes. Wouldn't you want clothes that you could easily put on by just touching and having them stick together, kind of like Velcro, but you don't need the other side? And you can imagine putting this on all kinds of sports equipments, like gloves and balls, to make them a lot more effective, or even on sneakers or on your car tires. We've even worked up a new kind of Band-Aid a Band-Aid that you put on that doesn't stick to your hairs, and it doesn't get all gooey, and you don't get infections in it, because you can just peel it right off and move it around, just like the geckos do with their incredible toes.

JM: Bob Full 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 think up a bio-inspired design? Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. I'm Jim Metzner.