Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara have reported that they have developed a glue that can be activated and deactivated by magnetism, a sort of on/off switch for the material’s adhesiveness, that mimics the adhesive characteristics of a gecko’s foot.
The research is being heralded because of its interdisciplinary nature, combining “biology, material science, physics, surface chemistry, nanoscience and mechanical engineering”. Also, the article cited above provides a laundry list of possible applications for the technology ranging from improved handling of microchips in semiconductor fabs to greater transport capabilities of robots in pipeline inspection.
But clearly both the researchers and the reporter of the article neglected to see the most obvious potential application for this technology: Making possible the ability to scamper around urban canyons like Spiderman.
Kidding aside, researchers have been looking at the gecko’s foot for some time as an example of how nanoscale hairs can be used as an adhesive force. While other research in this area focused on just the adhesive qualities, the UCSB researchers are the first to look at turning that adhesive on and off.
This is significant because there is a great deal of super strong adhesives out there already. However, currently there is no adhesive that can be turned on and off. Translation: Commercial opportunity.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.