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The gecko provided inspiration for an adhesive material that would allow climbing walls and ceilings

The researcher who developed the "Kapton" with millions of tiny bristles on it: Spider-Man will remain a comic book character; Hope that "gecko people" will become a reality

Yuval Dror

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In the movie "Spider-Man", the hero clings to walls and ceilings and climbs them like a spider, but it is clear to all viewers that this is a computerized effect, and that the actor is not really able to move on the flat surfaces. Now, with the announcement of researchers from the UK about a material they have developed, it seems that this is not an entirely imaginary possibility.

The material, coated with tiny bristles a few nanometers (billionths of a meter) long, was developed by researchers led by Prof. Andre Geim from the University of Manchester in England. Gaim got the inspiration for the material from the gecko, which is able to stick to smooth and steep surfaces.

Until recently, scientists believed that the gecko secretes a sticky chemical substance from its legs, thanks to which it manages to hang upside down. However, in studies done in the last year, it became clear that the gecko's ability to stick to surfaces is due to microscopic bristles on its foot.
It turns out that the gecko's foot has dozens of bristles, which are a millionth of a meter long; Each bristle splits at the tip into sub-bristles, which are several nanometers long. The bristles are able to bend and adapt to the tiny depressions found on the surface of any surface. This adjustment creates an attractive bond at the molecular level - known as the "van der Waals" bond - between the bristles and the surface to which they adhere. Any such bond is weak in itself, but the gecko's legs have a surface containing billions of nano-bristles, and this is how the sticking effect is created (similar to how scotch tape works).

A few months ago, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University reported that after three years of research, they succeeded in producing an artificial bristle that creates molecular bonds with the surface to which it adheres. Geim and his team of researchers managed to advance another step: in an article they published in the magazine "Nature" they report that they created a complex surface
from millions of such artificial bristles.

The researchers found out that the bristles need to be flexible and soft so that they can connect to rough surfaces - but they must not be too weak, so that they don't break. The substrate on which the bristles are placed must also be flexible enough for the entire system to work efficiently.

The artificial bristles are made from a material known as Kapton; Their length and diameter are two microns (micron = millionth of a meter); They are placed on a piece of adhesive paper that is a square centimeter in area. Each such piece is capable of containing about 100 million bristles and can carry one kilogram.

The first object that the researchers stuck to the ceiling to test the artificial bristles was a Spider-Man doll that one of the researchers had purchased for the occasion. "We glued the surface to the palm of the Spider-Man toy and it stuck without difficulty to a glass ceiling," Game reported.

There are still some problems that need to be solved: the production cost of the bristle surface is expensive, the production time is long, and the stickiness disappears after a few attempts.

According to Game, the applications of the new material may be of interest to many industries. Car tire manufacturers may find that the material provides better grip on the road, even in harsh weather conditions. The film industry may also be interested in a material that will allow climbing walls without effects. But Gaim believes that the Spider-Man vision is still far away: "Spider-Man is science fiction. He will remain in the comics arena. I hope that 'Shammit people' will become a reality in the near future."

Nanotechnology connoisseur
For information in Nature

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