A Moment of Science

Gecko Glue

Small, bug-eyed lizards, geckos are for the most part innocuous little creatures. They do, however, have one extraordinary trait: the ability to effortlessly walk straight up any surface and hang from ceilings by as little as one toe.

Scientists have just recently uncovered the gecko’s gravity-defying secret. Gecko feet come specially equipped with tiny hairs, called seta. The end of each hair contains about one thousand minuscule tips, each the width of two human hairs.

The size and shape of the tips generate a slight electric force that allows them to stick to a surface, similar to what makes a piece of paper stick to a comb on a dry day. Each hair tip has only a slight electric charge, but because there are so many tips Geckos can stick to even perfectly smooth ceilings.

Besides solving the Gecko mystery, the discovery excited scientists interested in copying the Gecko’s natural adhesive technology. Experiments have shown that scientists can make virtually any material into an adhesive by splitting the surface into many small tips, just like a Gecko’s feet.

According to some researchers, perfecting this technology may enable us to replace sticky and sometimes toxic glues and other adhesive products. Furthermore, gecko technology may prove useful in space, where suction is not possible.

As of this broadcast, scientists had not yet announced the development of gecko-style shoes that would allow the average citizen to Spiderman his way up and down walls. But that development is certainly worth hoping for.

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