The University of Akron and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute today announced a pretty cool new material using carbon nanotubes: a synthetic "gecko tape." The material's namesake, and inspiration, is the gecko, a type of lizard that can run up walls and across ceilings.
In a paper published in the June 18–22 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe a process for making polymer surfaces covered with carbon nanotube hairs. The nanotubes imitate the thousands of microscopic hairs on a gecko's footpad, which form weak bonds with whatever surface the creature touches, allowing it to “unstick” itself simply by shifting its foot. For the first time, the team has developed a prototype flexible patch that can stick and unstick repeatedly with properties better than the natural gecko foot. They fashioned their material into an adhesive tape that can be used on a wide variety of surfaces, including Teflon.According to this news release on Rensselaer Polytechnic's Web site, the material could be used to make feet for wall-climbing robots; as a dry, reversible adhesive in electronic devices; and in outer space, where most adhesives don't work because of the vacuum. The site also features some amazing magnified photos of the material, courtesy of the University of Akron.