Nature's secrets yield new adhesive material

Scientists report they have merged two of natures most elegant strategies for wet and dry adhesion to produce a synthetic material that one day could lead to more durable and longer-lasting bandages, patches, and surgical materials. As published in this weeks issue of the journal Nature, the scientists, supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health, have designed a synthetic material that starts with the dry adhesive properties of the gecko lizard and supplements it with the underwater adhesive properties of a mussel. The hybrid material, which they call a geckel nanoadhesive, proved in initial testing to be adherent under dry and wet conditions. It also adhered much longer under both extremes than previous gecko-based synthetic adhesives, a major issue in this area of research.

According to the authors, their findings mark the first time that two polar opposite adhesion strategies in nature have been merged into a man-made reversible adhesive. Our work represents a proof of principle that it can be done, said Phillip Messersmith, D. D.S., Ph.D., a scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and the senior author on the paper. A great deal of research still must be done to refine the fabrication process and greatly reduce its cost. Theres no reason to believe that these improvements cant be achieved, but its going to take time.

Dr. Messersmith said the inspiration for the geckel nanoadhesive came about two years ago when he noticed an article about the adhesive force of a single hair from the foot of gecko. As lizard fans have long marveled, geckos climb walls and other dry, steep surfaces not by producing a glue-like substance but through a natural adaptation of the hairs that cover the soles of their feet.

Roughly one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, each gecko hair splits multiple times at the end. These split ends contain cup-like

Contact: Bob Kuska
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

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