Geckskin Applications: Spider-Man Soldiers to Home Decor

Geckskin Applications: Spider-Man Soldiers to Home Decor

By Heidi Reidel

In 2012, a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, led by Al Crosby and Duncan J. Irschick, unveiled a new super adhesive called Geckskin, modeled after the ability of geckos to stick to almost any surface. The applications of this breakthrough are so broad that even NASA and the U.S. Military are eagerly awaiting further developments. 

How Does Geckskin Work?

Tiny hairs called “setae” on the feet of geckos allow them to cling to smooth surfaces. These setae branch into even tinier spatulae, which interact with surfaces on a molecular level to create adhesion. Similar to hair sticking to an inflated balloon, the charges of the molecules cause attraction. This is called van der Waals intermolecular forces.

Geckskin, however, doesn’t work to simulate the setae, but rather simulates the relationship between the skin, pad, and tendon on gecko feet. Geckskin uses stiff fabrics such as carbon fiber (representative of the skin) and soft, rubbery materials which represent the pad; the materials are then woven into a synthetic tendon.

Geckskin becomes more impactful because this results in “draping adhesion,” where the stiff material forces the synthetic setae to drape over surfaces like a tablecloth. The product is a super adhesive material strong enough to hold up to 700 pounds and can be removed easily only if pulled in the correct direction, and leaving behind no residue.

Applications of This Super Adhesive Material

To test the strength and durability of his creation, Al Crosby donated his own 42-inch flat-panel television for the cause. The TV held for over three hours using Geckskin. The research team produced a video proving the material can stick to nearly everything, but not enough testing has been done to commercialize the product for television mounting. 

Geckskin in Home-Decorating:

Geckskin could change the way people approach home-decorating by eradicating holes in walls from screws, tacks, tape, etc. This adhesive material would essentially revolutionize decorating and home repair. This could take a large amount of stress off of renters, homeowners, and college students in dorms. 

Geckskin in the Military:

The military jumped on the applications of this innovative material immediately. The Geckskin team’s research has been funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which is the advanced research arm of the U.S. Defense Department. The military is using this research to develop climbing aids that would allow soldiers to scale walls. They’ve experimented with a 218-pound researcher with an additional 50 pounds of gear climbing a 25-foot glass wall. These climbing aids could also potentially be used by emergency responders or even construction workers to reach high places safely.

Geckskin in Labs:

Labs and hospitals could also benefit from Geckskin. Because it doesn’t leave a residue or cause a chemical reaction, it would be safe to use in a lab environment without compromising anything. Though it hasn’t yet been tested for use on skin, Geckskin also has potential applications for wearables like patches or heart monitors.

Geckskin in Robotics and Space:

Even NASA is looking into creative uses for Geckskin, from catching space debris and reducing collisions to allowing robots to grip the exterior of ships to perform inspections and maintenance.

What Does this Material Mean for Sustainability?

Duncan Irschick assures that once the product is commercialized, consumers should be able to get it from a hardware store for a low cost. Geckskin is made of everyday materials that can be easily constructed and manufactured. Now the team is using 100% renewable materials such as natural rubber and hemp. Unlike tape and Blu-Tack, Geckskin can be reused, which would deter waste from alternative products. The Geckskin team even suggests that their product could be used to detach and reattach solar panels at different locations to charge electronic devices.

Between cleaning up trash in space and reducing waste on Earth, Geckskin could have an enormous environmental impact.

Geckskin is a truly innovative material. It could lead to new scientific or medical discoveries and transform gear for soldiers. 

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