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Nature's secrets yield new adhesive material

structures called spatulae that vastly increase the hairs surface area. Whereas a human hair touches a surface just once, the gecko makes multiple contacts with the suction-like spatulae. With roughly a half million hairs on each foot, scientists estimate a gecko has a billion spatulae at work as it scampers up a wall.

Messersmith knew that researchers have attempted for several years to produce synthetic adhesives based on the adherence strategy of the gecko. What caught his eye in this article is gecko adhesion doesnt work well in water. Messersmith, who studies the underwater adhesion of mussels, had an idea. What if each synthetic gecko-inspired polymer, called a pillar, was coated with a man-made adhesive protein inspired by the mussel" As Messersmith mused, nobody had ever tried it and, if successful, this hybrid approach might spawn a new and potentially superior direction in designing temporary adhesive materials.

As reported in Nature, Messersmiths idea turned out to be correct. He and his colleagues designed a small nanopolymer array that mimicked the natural spatial patterns of the hair on the foot of a gecko. They then coated their creation with a thin layer of a synthetic compound. This unusual compound mimics the reversible bonding action of a mussel adhesive protein that Messersmiths group has studied for the past several years.

In their initial experiments, which were led by graduate student Haeshin Lee, they found that the wet adhesive force of each pillar increased nearly 15 times when coated with the mussel mimetic and applied to titanium oxide, gold, and other surfaces. The dry adhesive force of the pillars also improved when coated with the compound.

That actually wasnt so surprising to us, said Lee, the lead author on the study. The mussel-inspired adhesive is extremely versatile in that it can bond reversibly to inorganic surfaces under wet and dry conditions.

As Lee noted,
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Contact: Bob Kuska
kuskar@nidcr.nih.gov
301-594-7560
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
18-Jul-2007


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