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NASA Has Engineered A New Kind of Adhesive Based on Gecko Feet

The adhesive uses van der Waals force to stick to objects.

by Rachel Pick
Aug 13 2015, 7:58pm

Photo: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/YouTube

Regular adhesives don't work well in space, and while Velcro remains a functional option, it's not ideal. To develop a new way to get things to adhere in zero gravity, NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs turned to the animal kingdom for inspiration—namely, geckos' feet.

Geckos get their crazy climbing ability from minuscule hairs on their feet, which adhere to perfectly smooth, vertical surfaces using van der Waals force. Van der Waals force is a polarity at the atomic level, that causes nearby atoms or molecules to adopt a matching polarity, creating a temporary adhesive bond.

Impressed by this ability, the engineers developed an adhesive surface with tiny hairs, like the hairs on gecko feet. Engineers then tested their new invention on NASA's zero gravity plane, aka the "vomit comet." Their adhesive was able to stick to objects over 100 kilograms, and remained stuck when force was exerted against the bond.

The potential uses for this technology in space are huge. It could be used outside spacecraft to retrieve satellites for repair, to move space garbage out of the way, and on robots that move around the outside of a spacecraft making repairs and performing inspections.


Nature inspiring technology—now that's some truly awesome science.