Tuesday September 26, 2006

Foot Fetish

The tip of a gecko's toe holds the key to stronger adhesives. The National Science Foundation has awarded $1 million to the University of Dayton to investigate.

The tiny hairs on gecko feet that allow the lizards to walk across a ceiling like it's a floor may be the answer to better, stronger adhesives used to hold together electronics, houses, and even planes.

Adhesives are a multibillion-dollar industry. The idea that what's good for the gecko may be good for the industry has led to a rush of research aimed at mimicking the gecko's glue. And the University of Dayton is set to be a leader in that research.

The National Science Foundation awarded UD $1 million over four years as lead institution for the Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team, which will investigate the manipulation of carbon nanotubes to intensify the gecko's adhesive properties.

Liming Dai, UD's Wright Brothers Institute Endowed Chair in Nanomaterials and an authority on functional polymers and carbon nanotechnology, will lead the team, which includes researchers from the University of Akron, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

"On gecko feet, there are hundreds of aligned sticky hairs used for gripping vertical surfaces," Dai said. "If you look at carbon nanotubes under the electron microscope, they look similar to gecko feet."

Carbon nanotubes are tiny, hollow tubes made of carbon atoms. They're a millionth of a millimeter in diameter and exhibit unusual strength and unique electrical properties. With the NSF grant, the team hopes to discover nanotubes' sticky properties and modify the surface to change these properties depending on the application. For example, nanotube adhesives could seal packaging, bond airplane parts or adhere surveillance equipment to walls.

For more information, contact Linda Robertson at 937-229-3257.