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Metamaterial adhesives for programmable adhesion through reverse crack propagation


Adhesives are typically either strong and permanent or reversible with limited strength. However, current strategies to create strong yet reversible adhesives needed for wearable devices, robotics and material disassembly lack independent control of strength and release, require complex fabrication or only work in specific conditions. Here we report metamaterial adhesives that simultaneously achieve strong and releasable adhesion with spatially selectable adhesion strength through programmed cut architectures. Nonlinear cuts uniquely suppress crack propagation by forcing cracks to propagate backwards for 60× enhancement in adhesion, while allowing crack growth in the opposite direction for easy release and reusability. This mechanism functions in numerous adhesives on diverse substrates in wet and dry conditions and enables highly tunable adhesion with independently programmable adhesion strength in two directions simultaneously at any location. We create these multifunctional materials in a maskless, digital fabrication framework to rapidly customize adhesive characteristics with deterministic control for next-generation adhesives.

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Fig. 1: High-strength, easy-release metamaterial adhesives.
Fig. 2: Enhancing adhesion through reverse crack propagation.
Fig. 3: Versatility and performance comparisons of metamaterial adhesives.
Fig. 4: Digitalized adhesive fabrication.
Fig. 5: Metamaterial adhesives with programmable strength and direction.

Data availability

All the data and relevant information are available within the Article and its Supplementary Information. Source data are provided with this paper.


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D.H., C.L. and M.D.B. acknowledge support from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award (DARPA YFA) (D18AP00041, M.D.B.) and the National Science Foundation under the DMREF programme (award number 2119105, M.D.B.). J.F., B.L. and E.J.M. acknowledge support from Nebraska Tobacco Settlement Biomedical Research Development funds (E.J.M.). X.Y. and R.L. acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation under the DMREF programme (award number 2118878, R.L.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.H. and M.D.B. conceived the idea. D.H., C.L. and J.M.P.-G. prepared adhesives and performed experiments. J.F., B.L. and E.J.M. prepared and performed robotic arm and pulse oximetry experiments. D.H., C.L., X.Y., R.L. and M.D.B. analysed the results. D.H. and M.D.B. wrote the paper with input from E.J.M. and R.L., and M.D.B supervised the study.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael D. Bartlett.

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Competing interests

M.D.B. and D.H. are inventors on a patent application (US patent 17/248,351) on the adhesive design. The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Materials thanks Anand Jagota, Hoon Eui Jeong and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–3, Figs. 1–19, Tables 1 and 2, and Videos 1–7.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Strong adhesion with easy release. This video shows the difference adhesive strength of two adhesives with the same pattern geometry, which were attached to the acrylic substrate in opposite directions. In maximum force peel direction, cracks are effectively arrested at the tip of interconnects and travel backwards into the uncut side of nonlinear cut regions, resulting in significantly enhanced adhesion (Fig. 1). In the minimum force peel direction, by contrast, the cracks only propagate forward, resulting in low adhesion similar to a conventional, unpatterned adhesive.

Supplementary Video 2

Crack propagation comparison between metamaterial adhesive and unpatterned adhesive. This video shows the different crack propagation behaviours between metamaterial and unpatterned adhesives. The unpatterned adhesive shows constant forward crack propagation under a 90° peel loading. In contrast, the metamaterial adhesive shows that the forward propagating crack is trapped at the tip of interconnects and then travels backwards to separate. High adhesion strength is achieved by reverse crack propagation. By controlling the cut pattern geometry and density across the adhesive strip, the efficacy of the adhesion enhancement mechanism can be tuned to produce desirable and predictable adhesive performance.

Supplementary Video 3

Low angle, reverse crack propagation in metamaterial adhesives. This video shows the peeling of an adhesive with rectangular cut patterns and the corresponding load–displacement curve. Note that blue fluorescent dye is added into the adhesive to visually display the low angle, reverse crack propagation during a 90° peel loading. This reverse crack propagation, which is a critical adhesion enhancement mechanism, is observed in the metamaterial adhesive with nonlinear cuts.

Supplementary Video 4

Metamaterial adhesive box tape demonstration. The video shows the different packaging capabilities of an initially sealed box with a metamaterial adhesive and an unpatterned adhesive, respectively. The metamaterial adhesive enables the box to withstand over five drop impacts of a clay brick (1,550 g). Conversely, the unpatterned adhesive completely fails after two drop impacts.

Supplementary Video 5

Metamaterial adhesive wall hanging demonstration. This video displays the metamaterial adhesive capabilities of supporting a hanging object for 7 days without any observed delamination and then being easily released by peeling.

Supplementary Video 6

Metamaterial adhesive glove demonstration. This video shows the performance of a metamaterial adhesive glove and an unpatterned adhesive glove for a pick-and-release demonstration, respectively. This allowed a user to attach to a flat object, pick up the object and hold it reliably with the metamaterial adhesive surface, while the unpatterned glove dropped the object. The metamaterial adhesive glove can then effortlessly release the plate at a predetermineded location through wrist rotation.

Supplementary Video 7

Human-robotics object manipulation. This video displays a wearable electronic attached to skin through a metamaterial adhesive for the control of a robotic system. The robotic arm manipulates a yellow box in accordance with the human arm movement. Robust adhesion secures the device, which can then be readily removed and its functionality persists after transferring it to another user’s arm, demonstrating strong adhesion, easy release and reusability of metamaterial adhesives.

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Hwang, D., Lee, C., Yang, X. et al. Metamaterial adhesives for programmable adhesion through reverse crack propagation. Nat. Mater. 22, 1030–1038 (2023).

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