Airdate: Oct 21, 2009
Scientist: Bob Full
Kids' Science Challenge: Biomimicry - Gecko Inspired
If scientists are able to successfully mimic the adhesive properties of a gecko's foot, the uses for such material will be limitless.
In the 1940s, a Swiss engineer stumbled, quite literally, into a nature-inspired alternative to the zipper. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Observing first-hand how a burr clung to his wool pants, George de Mestral put a seed pod under his microscope and discovered hundreds of tiny hooks. And nature’s design became the inspiration for Velcro. Well, sixty years later, engineers at UC Berkeley are developing new adhesive materials inspired by the millions of tiny hairs on a gecko’s foot. These microscopic hairs enable a gecko’s foot pads to adhere to almost any surface. It’s a completely unique, dry, non-sticky form of nano-adhesion. Biologist Bob Full shares a few potential uses.
BF: “Well, it’s clear that it could make a very nice adhesive that you could put on a wall and detach, but you could also imagine making the most spectacular bandage ever, where you have no glue, it’s aerated, it doesn’t stick to your hairs when you take it off, and you can move it around. You can imagine putting this in almost everything you can see. So, you can attach something. You can peel it off. Shoes, obviously, lots of sporting equipment, tires will have this. You might imagine new kinds of probes to grab things; ones that can work in factories to move computer chips without scratching them. The uses are just unlimited.”
Bob Full 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. Kids can learn more about the science of biomimicry and submit their own bio-inspired ideas to KidScienceChallenge.com. I’m Jim Metzner.