Scientists get a grip on gecko's secret

A new scientific discovery about geckos has scientists climbing up the walls: Researchers have concluded that the lizards utilize subatomic molecular attraction to shimmy their way up vertical surfaces.

The key to geckos' cling lies in millions of microscopic hairs, called setae, that line their feet. A single hair can support the weight of an ant, thanks to forces of attraction resulting from interactions between the positive and negative charges of protons and electrons.

Cameras took 1,000 pictures a minute to help analyze the motion of geckos' feet. It was discovered that the geckos uncurl their toes slightly, which allows them to unstick the hairs on their feet - in much same the way that one peels tape off a surface.

Researcher Robert Full of Berkeley University in San Francisco, envisions adapting the geckos' secret for technological uses. "One could develop a general dry adhesive that stays clean. It would be velcro which doesn't require two pieces," he says in a telephone interview. If scientists successfully find a way to replicate these atomic forces, then such an adhesive could even be used underwater or in space.

The research was funded by IS Robotics Inc. The company has since copied the gecko's toe motion to develop a robot prototype that is able to climb walls (though not as fast as the reptiles) with pressure-sensitive glue adhesive on the machine's "feet."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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