|
3
Sticking to Walls

This gecko might teach us how to walk on walls.

© iStockphoto/swisshippo

Since the dawn of time, man has searched for the ideal way to stick something to something else. In ancient times, this may have involved hammering a large spike through the hide of a mammoth to make the cave dwelling a little less drafty. These days, engineers look to plants with burrs or creatures like the gecko for inspiration.

Back in 1941, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral was picking out burrs that had caught on his clothing and in his dog's fur. He placed a burr under a microscope and noticed that it had tiny barbs that allowed it to attach to passing creatures. The engineer came up with a brilliant plan -- create a material that used these tiny barbs as a fastening device. That material is what we now call Velcro [source: Stephens].

Then there's Gecko Tape, a material that uses nanoscopic hairs to cling to sheer surfaces. The hairs mimic the ones you'd find on the feet of geckos. One day, scientists might be able to create an entire suit using this material. That suit would allow the wearer to scale walls and perhaps even walk across ceilings. Before long, we may be able to put in a call to our friendly neighborhood Spider-man.

|