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Purdue Researchers Study Underwater Adhesive, Create Their Own

Dr. Wilker says tests of an underwater adhesive are showing themselves to be more than 10x stronger than the natural one it's modeled on.

A professor at Purdue University says tests of an underwater adhesive are showing themselves to be more than 10 times stronger than the natural one it’s modeled on.

In Dr. John Wilker’s lab, mussels and oysters are kept in temperature controlled tanks. The first thing you might notice when you walk into the room is that it smells like salt water.

Wilker says the oysters are from South Carolina, and the mussels come from Maine.

In The Lab

In large tubs and aquarium, you can see the mussels cling to each other.

“One thing that animal adhesives do particularly well that man-made adhesives don’t do very well is, they can stick underwater,” Wilker says. “When you go to the hardware store, if you buy all the adhesives there, and you go home and try to glue things together in a bucket of water, nothing’s gonna work, right?”


Wilker says there are multiple reasons mussels produce an adhesive. It protects them from waves, predators, and it helps with reproductive efficiency.

Not only does Wilker study the adhesive produced by the sea life, the lab also makes its own.


“What we’re trying to do first is understand how nature makes materials, and so that involves working with the shellfish and the adhesives they make,” Wilker says. “As we understand what the animals are doing, then we want to transition this technology into making synthetic versions.”

Testing The Adhesive

“What we do here is cut up different kinds of tissue, so bones, and soft tissue, and gluing it together and trying to test how good our adhesives are,” Wilker says.


In another room, researchers use a machine connected to a computer to test the strength of various glues.

With a strong, non-toxic adhesive that works underwater, Wilker imagines it could be used in a variety of ways. A non-toxic underwater adhesive could make a big difference for biomedical applications used to address issues such as bone damage, dental work and house construction.

‘We have not solved the biomedical adhesion problem yet,” Wilker says. “But we’re making, I think, very good progress and we’ve got some materials that are sticking pretty well.”

Wilker says a recent adhesive made by the lab turned out to be more than ten times stronger than the adhesive produced by the mussels,and the lab produced another adhesive from corn.

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