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The unassuming gecko - That tiny lizard that seems to scamper around any surface in gravity-defying positions, has intrigued scientists for many years. In the past, this amazing ability has been duplicated by researchers to create wall-scaling robots and now, a team of scientists from Germany has come up with a gecko inspired adhesive tape, that can be re-used thousands of times.
Not impressed? How about if we tell you that a small 20cm x 20cm square piece is strong enough to handle the weight of an adult. And, even more amazing is the fact that it can be stuck to any surface and even used underwater. The coolest thing is that unlike other strong adhesive tapes it leaves no residue, when ripped off!
The reason geckos and a few other insects can walk around on any wall in this magical fashion with no regard to the gravitational pull or surface material, is all to do with the thousands of tiny hairs called setae (pronounced see-tee) that cover their feet and legs. The end of each tiny hair is split further about a thousand times and at the bottom of each of them is a little suction-like flat surface called a spatula.
All these tiny hair, each with its own little spatula gives the gecko so much surface-area that when it comes in contact with any kind of surface the attraction between molecules known as Van der Waals forces, pulls on them, essentially allowing them to stick to any wall or ceiling. Thanks to the collective efforts of the hundreds of thousands of spatulae on the gecko's foot, the molecular traction is strong enough to allow the lizard to scurry around with no fear of falling. To detach themselves from the surface, they simply change the angle of the satae hair and off they come. The Van der Waals force, named after the Dutch scientist who first discovered it, is the same reason little drops of water adhere to the ceiling or to the side of a glass.
While scientist have known the secret behind these Spiderman-like abilities for some time now, finding a suitable material has been a challenge. Added to this was the issue of creating millions of satae-like hair that were flexible enough to stick to any kind of surface.
This silicon prototype invented by a team of scientists from the Zoological Institute at Germany's University of Kiel, is the first time researchers have been able to recreate the gecko's technique.
The only drawback to this amazing tape is that it is still just in experimental stages and may not be commercially available until the scientists figure out how to manufacture it at a reasonable cost - If they ever do, can you just imagine the fun applications it could have?
Resources: gizmag.com,dailymail.co.uk, news.discovery.com,