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The science behind gecko traction on wet surfaces

NSF Award:

Understanding Acid-Base Interactions using Interface-Sensitive Spectroscopy  (University of Akron)

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Humans mind the motto, "Slippery when wet." But for geckos, wet surfaces actually provide traction. Geckos are known to stick to surfaces such as leaves even when they are wet.  How can this be? To find out, doctoral candidate Alyssa Stark worked with NSF-funded researcher Ali Dhinojwala and colleagues at the University of Akron, to determine the amount of force required to have geckos slide on different types of surfaces, both dry and wet.

They used two types of surfaces, hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-repelling). Water spreads out on hydrophilic surfaces, while it beads up on hydrophobic ones. When geckos find themselves on a wet hydrophilic surface, the water makes them slip as expected. However, on a hydrophobic surface (like most types of leaves), the water had no effect between the gecko's toes and the surface, so they adhered just as strongly as when the surface was dry. The effect was seen strongly even on wet Teflon.

These findings may help scientists design surfaces that grip underwater and adhesives that work in a wet environment.

This research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Images (1 of )

  • a gecko adheres to a vertically suspended leaf covered with water droplets
  • a gecko displays its power to adhere as sensors measure the force involved
A gecko adheres to a leaf covered with water droplets.
Alyssa Stark, The University of Akron
A gecko adheres to a wet surface as a sensor measures the force involved.
Ethan Knapp and Alyssa Stark, The University of Akron

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