[oxfordgamers] The Gecko lives!

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Forget Spider-Man -- Gecko Man may be breathing down
your neck with gloves made of sticky hairs.

Researchers in Britain said on Monday they had developed a new type of
adhesive based on the uniquely sticky feet of geckos. And yes, some day
people may be able to use it to climb walls.

The lithe little lizards can climb glass ceilings and perch happily for
hours on the smoothest walls. Late last year, U.S. researchers reported
they had found that tiny little hairs and not any kind of chemical glue
help the animals cling so well.

Andre Geim of the University of Manchester in Britain, who developed the
tape, said it is a more realistic model for people who may want to imitate
nature than spiders.

"The mechanism used by spiders (and flies) for climbing walls is not
scalable while the gecko mechanism is," Geim said in an interview conducted
by e-mail.

"This offers a unique opportunity for scaling the gecko's invention up for
the use with much heavier objects, even to the extent that humans can use
it (e.g., for rock-climbing?)," said Geim, who reports his finding in the
June issue of the journal Nature Materials.

"In this sense, Spider-Man is a fiction, the non-science one and will ever
remain in comics. On the other hand, Gecko Man ... now it seems to be
rather close to reality."

Biologists had for years assumed that geckos used something akin to glue.
But close examination with electron microscopes shows they have millions of
tiny hairs called setae.

A seta is only about 100 micrometers long -- about the width of two human
hairs. Each seta ends with 1,000 even tinier pads at the tip.

One seta can lift the weight of an ant. A million setae, which could easily
fit onto the area of a dime, could lift a 45-pound child and a gecko using
all of its setae at the same time could support 280 pounds.

"If human palms were covered by this adhesive material, it would support
the weight of an average human," wrote Geim, who worked with colleagues at
the Institute for Microelectronics Technology in Chemogolovka, Russia. He
said they had only been able to make 0.16 square inch of the stuff so far.
It is very expensive to make, Geim said, and the plastic backing his team
used to make the tape is not very durable.



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