Inspired by: geckos

This bit of news isn't actually all that new, but that's the nature of science: from discovery of physical principle to practical application takes a while.

So way back in the '70s, there was finally a microscope powerful enough to see what a gecko's hairy feet looked like. Because however they managed to climb polished glass, it wasn't glue, it wasn't suction cups, and it wasn't hooks or claws. This is what they found:

Yup, those are some hairy toes.

Then in 2000, a researcher in Oregon figured out how those hairs let a gecko run up polished glass: the tips of the hairs, the spatulae, were so small that they actually used the intermolecular force to cling to the wall, and so numerous that, combined, this was more than enough to hold the weight of the gecko. Various experiments confirmed this, such as making an artificial hair of the same size and shape but out of a couple of different materials and finding it stuck to the sensor with the same force, and checking to see if geckos could climb teflon, which has a very low intermolecular force. (They can't.)

Starting in 2005, the Waalbot was climbing things.

Over the years, it got better at handling itself on different surfaces.

There are also several different styles of synthetic gecko hairs under development. Two of them are:

The branching method, copying natural setae—hairs on top of hairs.

The spaghetti method, carbon nanotubes that stick along their length instead of just at their tips. This one apparently sticks a lot better than gecko hairs do.

Waalbot is cute. I look forward to seeing it climbing on all kinds of interesting things. Dry adhesives like these synthetic gecko hairs work on any surface that is subject to intermolecular forces, which means almost everything (except teflon). It should work in space just as well as it works in that guy's kitchen. Also, the name makes me giggle.

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