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A reversible wet/dry adhesive inspired by mussels and geckos


The adhesive strategy of the gecko relies on foot pads composed of specialized keratinous foot-hairs called setae, which are subdivided into terminal spatulae of approximately 200 nm (ref. 1). Contact between the gecko foot and an opposing surface generates adhesive forces that are sufficient to allow the gecko to cling onto vertical and even inverted surfaces. Although strong, the adhesion is temporary, permitting rapid detachment and reattachment of the gecko foot during locomotion. Researchers have attempted to capture these properties of gecko adhesive in synthetic mimics with nanoscale surface features reminiscent of setae2,3,4,5,6,7; however, maintenance of adhesive performance over many cycles has been elusive2,8, and gecko adhesion is greatly diminished upon full immersion in water9,10. Here we report a hybrid biologically inspired adhesive consisting of an array of nanofabricated polymer pillars coated with a thin layer of a synthetic polymer that mimics the wet adhesive proteins found in mussel holdfasts. Wet adhesion of the nanostructured polymer pillar arrays increased nearly 15-fold when coated with mussel-mimetic polymer. The system maintains its adhesive performance for over a thousand contact cycles in both dry and wet environments. This hybrid adhesive, which combines the salient design elements of both gecko and mussel adhesives, should be useful for reversible attachment to a variety of surfaces in any environment.

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Figure 1: Rational design and fabrication of wet/dry hybrid nanoadhesive.
Figure 2: Fabricated gecko and geckel adhesives.
Figure 3: AFM method for adhesion measurement and imaging of contact area at the single pillar level.
Figure 4: Force–distance curves and adhesion strength of geckel adhesive.


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We are grateful to the NIH and NASA for providing funding for this work. We thank J. Jureller and W. Russin for advice on optical imaging, B. Meyer for electron-beam lithography discussions, and V. Dravid and K. Shull for critical reading of the manuscript. Portions of this work used the NUANCE (EPIC, KECK-II and NIFTI) and biological imaging facilities at Northwestern University, the Nanobio facility at the University of Chicago, and the National Magnetic Resonance Facility at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Author Contributions P.B.M. planned the project, designed experiments, analysed data and wrote the manuscript. H.L. designed and performed experiments, analysed data and wrote the manuscript. B.P.L. designed and synthesized the polymer and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Phillip B. Messersmith.

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Competing interests

The corresponding author (P.B.M.) is a stockholder of Nerites Corporation, which supplied one of the polymers used in this study.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-3 and Legends, Supplementary Methods; and Supplementary Video 1 Legend. (PDF 514 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

This file contains Supplementary Video 1. The Supplementary Video file contains six nanopillars of geckel contacting with a tipless AFM cantilever. (MOV 433 kb)

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Lee, H., Lee, B. & Messersmith, P. A reversible wet/dry adhesive inspired by mussels and geckos. Nature 448, 338–341 (2007).

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