Geckos are lizards with amazing stickiness, thanks to millions of tiny hairs that line their feet. Host Steve Curwood talks with Andre Geim, a scientist at the University of Manchester, who has modeled a dry adhesive tape on the gecko’s extraordinary ability.
CURWOOD: Geckos are lizards with the astounding ability to stick to any surface. They can cling to a glass ceiling with just a single toe. Now scientists have modeled a new tape on the gecko and produced an amazingly adhesive product. Andre Geim heads the project at the University of Manchester. Professor Geim, what makes the gecko so sticky?
GEIM: Their toes are covered by millions and millions of very small hairs. Each hair produces a very small, minute force, but when all those forces from millions of hairs has added up, then you get a very large stickiness, a formidable force.
CURWOOD: Tell me exactly how you recreated in your laboratory the gecko’s ability to stick to walls.
GEIM: Well, initially, after actually a few weeks, we make the sort of hairs on a solid, rock-solid substrate, they didn’t stick at all. So we had to spend a couple of years to learn how to put the tape on a flexible substrate, so to force all billions of hairs we have on our tape to work in unison, collectively.
CURWOOD: Ah, ha.
GEIM: The problem is that any surface, however you believe it’s smooth, it has bumps, it has dust on the surface. Therefore, not only hairs of geckos are flexible; also their fingers, toes are flexible to attach to the whole surface at the same time.
CURWOOD: When you think in the years ahead of the gecko tape being used, how do you fantasize it might be used?