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Gecko Feet

October 18, 2006

Engineers are trying to imitate the amazing properties of the gecko’s toes.


What lizards can teach engineers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Right now, geckos are best known for hawking car insurance. But they’re also marvels of engineering. That’s because gecko toes are packed with millions of tiny, spatula-shaped hairs, which allow the lizards to scamper effortlessly across ceilings and drop at will. Electrical engineer and computer scientist Ron Fearing of the University of California at Berkeley is leading an effort to create artificial microfibers that act like gecko feet.

RON FEARING (University of California, Berkeley):
And they don’t slip, it’s very high friction. But it doesn’t quite work like the gecko because if you try to pull it off, it just pulls off really, really easily, actually much easier than the gecko.

That could provide good traction for tires and shoes. But a material that sticks and releases like gecko feet may have more colorful applications, from pain-free adhesive bandages to wall-climbing robots. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.