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Biologically inspired adhesive tape can be reused thousands of times


November 6, 2011

Surrounded by other team members, Achim Oesert from the University of Kiel hangs from the ...

Surrounded by other team members, Achim Oesert from the University of Kiel hangs from the ceiling using bioinspired polymer tape (Image: University of Kiel) alongside an image of a gecko (Image: Wahj via Flickr)

As is so often the case these days for those searching for a better way to stick stuff together, researchers from the Zoological Institute at the University of Kiel in Germany have turned to the biology of gravity-defying ceiling walkers, such as geckos and insects. These creatures served as inspiration for a new dry adhesive tape that not only boasts impressive bonding strength, but can also be attached and detached thousands of times without losing its adhesive properties.

The secret to the wall climbing ability of many insects and geckos lies in the thousands of tiny hairs called setae that cover their feet and legs. The sheer abundance of these hairs, coupled with flattened tips that can splay out to maximize contact on even rough surface areas, make it sufficient for the Van der Waals forces, which operate at a molecular level and are relatively weak compared to normal chemical bonds, to provide the requisite adhesive strength that allows them to scurry along walls and ceilings.

It is this technique that the research group, led by Stanislav Gorb, have mimicked with their silicone tape. By patterning the tape with tiny hairs similar to setae, they created a tape that was at least two times harder to pull off of a surface than a flat tape of the same material. Additionally, the bioinspired tape leaves no sticky residue, can also work underwater, and can be repeatedly peeled off thousands of times without losing its ability to grip.

Providing an illustration of the adhesive properties of the new tape, a 20 x 20 cm (7.87 in) square piece was able to support the weight of one team member dangling from the ceiling.

The researchers are also looking to nature in the form of beetle coverwings, snake skin, and anti-adhesive plants, for inspiration for other bioinspired materials.

The University of Kiel team presented their findings at the AVS Symposium held in Nashville earlier this month.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

Yet another case of adopting from Mother nature.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
7th November, 2011 @ 07:10 am PST

Love these guys.

They are on the right track when they are looking for anti-adhesive properties in plants as well.

I hope some large company doesn't acquire their ideas and suppress them in order to keep selling one-use disposable adhesives.

7th November, 2011 @ 07:43 am PST

Of course, if the reusable tape is ever applied to a dirty, dusty, or greasy surface, it's rendered useless; and, of course, the effect would be cumulative, losing a bit of adhesion each time it's used, due to dust in the air settling onto most surfaces.

William H Lanteigne
7th November, 2011 @ 09:13 am PST

Very cool!

Kirill Belousov
7th November, 2011 @ 11:29 am PST

"Providing an illustration of the adhesive properties of the new tape, a 20 x 20 cm (7.87 in) square piece was able to support the weight of one team member dangling from the ceiling."

That's great, but that's a useless number for comparison.

I note that every explanation of this tape's strength is compared to itself or nothing at all. That makes me suspect this isn't very strong tape.

So how much duct tape do you need, or double sided carpet tape, to lift the same person?

Maury Markowitz
7th November, 2011 @ 12:06 pm PST

re; Maury Markowitz

Several square yards.

7th November, 2011 @ 02:39 pm PST

Get this into mass production and smart criminals will love it. They'll be able to tape things up without leaving fingerprints in the adhesive. That's caught many criminals who thought they'd cleaned up everything.

Gregg Eshelman
7th November, 2011 @ 03:07 pm PST

@Slowburn, how do you figure that? It looks from the picture as though the guy is holding onto a suction pad for handling glass, which is presumably holding onto the tape, in turn taped to the glass. Assuming a good seal to the pad, a 20x20 square of duct tape would seem very trustworthy to me, as pulling it straight off the glass requires a huge amount of force. I wouldn't be surprised if 20x20 of cello tape could hold a person under the same conditions.

Marcus Carr
7th November, 2011 @ 04:17 pm PST

How will they keep the tape from sticking to itself?

7th November, 2011 @ 08:34 pm PST

re; Marcus Carr

I have worked with the stuff, and watched Mythbusters.

8th November, 2011 @ 07:16 am PST

Marcus is right. Even if one square inch of duct tape can only hold one pound of force, then only one square yard will hold almost 1300 lbs., assuming ideal load distribution similar to how their doing in the photo. Duct tape should hold over 5 lbs. per square inch, making an 8 in. by 8 in. patch of duct tape glue more than enough to hold that guy in the picture.

Bob Tackett
8th November, 2011 @ 08:19 am PST

Is it a safe material or could there be skin irritations on Tissue ?

Also where is it available?

Helga Schmidt
4th January, 2012 @ 05:31 pm PST

I work for a wholesale distributor and I think new technology in adhesive tape choices is great! This article was really good and I hope that they continue testing and working the new technology so that customers have a choice of what they purchase. There are different ahesive tapes used for many different applications and one more would not hurt anything.

Michelle Jones
19th June, 2012 @ 12:20 pm PDT

I agree with slowburn on duck tape. It's awesome stuff but has no where near the adhesion to support 140+lbs like the image shows. Mythbusters did a duct tape episode you should watch if you want a practical demonstration of duck tape. I haven't actually tested a comparable setup though as this would require double sided duck tape, or a gun full of it's adhesive. I know that a two foot length of standard duck tape will not support a two pound load for more than a couple of minutes as I have tried taping things to walls and such. I suggest that if you do not believe the square yards figure that you conduct your own experiments. Heck film it and post it to youtube. I bet you'd get a ton of hits.

Joel Joines
1st November, 2012 @ 08:03 am PDT
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