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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: April 26, 2017

Synthetic two-sided gecko’s foot could enable underwater robotics

"Nanohydrogel Brushes for Switchable Underwater Adhesion"
Journal of Physical Chemistry C

Geckos are well known for effortlessly scrambling up walls and upside down across ceilings. Even in slippery rain forests, the lizards maintain their grip. Now scientists have created a double-sided adhesive that copies this reversible ability to stick and unstick to surfaces even in wet conditions. They say their development, reported in ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry C, could be useful in underwater robotics, sensors and other bionic devices.

Inspired by geckos’ natural ability to attach and release their feet from surfaces as slick as glass, scientists have made a number of adhesives that can similarly stick and unstick with changes in temperature, light or magnetic field, but mostly in dry conditions. One promising approach to expanding this to underwater scenarios involves hydrogels that can swell and shrink in response to different acidity levels and other conditions. These volume differences change the gels’ friction and stickiness levels. Feng Zhou, Daniele Dini and colleagues recently developed a method to integrate nanostructured hydrogel fibers on an inorganic membrane. The material’s friction and stickiness levels changed with pH even when wet. The researchers wanted to further expand on this strategy to make the adhesive work on two sides.

The researchers first made the inorganic membrane double-faced and then added the hydrogel nanofibers on both sides. Testing showed that the material exhibited ultra-high friction and adhesion in an acidic liquid (pH of 2), and would rapidly switch to a state of ultra-low friction and stickiness when a basic solution (pH of 12) was added. Additionally, the two sides of the material can stick and slide independently of each other.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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Scientists mimic the gecko’s feet to create an adhesive that can stick and unstick to surfaces, even when wet.
Credit: nico99/Shutterstock.com