A gecko is an amazing lizard that can stick to almost any surface, even when inverted on a mirrored ceiling. It is able to do this because of an amazing foot design.
The ribbed pads on the bottom of the gecko’s feet are covered with very tiny hair like bristles called setae. These setae (1/10th mm long) are packed tightly together (three million per square inch or 5,000 per square millimeter), and each seta has about 400 to 1,000 branches that resemble tiny (0.2-0.5 microns or less than 1/50,000 in. long) spatula-shaped prongs.
It appears that the sticking power of the setae is due to weak short-range bonds between molecules, known as Van der Waals forces. One of the requirements for these weak forces to work is a very large contact area between the foot and surface. The huge number of spatula on the foot provides the needed contact. Millions of weak forces add up to a very strong force.
Biologists and engineers tested the adhesive force of one seta and found it was strong enough to hold up an ant. A million setae could carry the weight of a small child!
The gecko must also be able to unstick his foot quickly as it walks – after all, what good is a sticky foot if you can’t move? By using a complicated blood reservoir system, see an article we wrote called The Grand Design of a Gecko, and uncurling and unpeeling of its toes, the gecko is able to walk or run along!
Today, scientists and engineers have been inspired by the ‘natural technology of gecko foot hairs’ and developed ‘remarkably effective adhesives’. Two robot ‘champion climbers’ have been developed with sticky feet that walk the way geckos do by using an uncurling and unpeeling action.
I recently bought, “as seen on TV,” the GripGo-Phone-Mount. It has a large suction cup that attaches to your windshield. On the end of a swivel mechanism, it has a green sticky adhesive pad to which you are able to stick a mobile phone, Ipod, or other smooth device. To remove you ‘simply’ lift from one side and peel the device off. How is this possible? The manufacture claims that “The secret is a unique polymer surface that acts as millions of suction cups that instantly grip and release over and over again.” In other words – Gecko Technology. And it works … if you keep the sticky surface clean! Amazingly, the gecko’s feet are self-cleaning. Scientists are still trying to find out how geckos do that.
Once again, whether they recognize it or not, many scientists and engineers are looking to God’s designs in nature for solutions to modern day problems.
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