When geckos and other animals walk across the ceiling, they are using adhesive mechanisms that ensure strong, durable adhesion without using any type of glue or leaving any residues. Researchers at CAU have now investigated how to artificially replicate these mechanisms and are presenting their results at HANNOVER MESSE 2017, including at a presentation on the first day of the fair entitled "Stuck in the north: smart surfaces for walking on the ceiling". The topic should be very at home at HANNOVER MESSE, since the adhesive material, which has been inspired by nature, can be remotely operated using UV light and thus opens up new opportunities for industrial applications. "In the long term, we would like to use the new material to develop micro robots that can be controlled by light and can climb walls," explains Professor Stanislav Gorb from the Zoological Institute at CAU.
While in nature it is mechanical stimuli such as muscle movements that ensure the animal's legs either adhere to a surface or are released from it, the research team in Kiel has opted to use light to control their artificial adhesive mechanism. "The advantage to light is that it can be applied with great precision," explains Emre Kizilkan from the Functional Morphology and Biomechanics Group. "It is reversible, meaning it can be switched on and off and all in the shortest space of time." The surface of the intelligent, adhesive composite, which can be controlled using light, consists of a microstructure of adhesive elements shaped like mushroom heads, just like the elements found on the feet of certain species of beetle. Flat and three-dimensional elements such as small specimen slides or balls made of glass adhere to these surfaces and can also therefore be lifted. When the composite is exposed to UV light, the surface starts to curve and more and more adhesive elements separate from the object until it can finally be set down again. "We’re using the light as a kind of remote control system," says Professor Gorb. "What's more, our nature-inspired adhesive material doesn’t leave any residues on the objects." The research group's discovery is therefore particularly relevant for the building of sensitive sensors and tiny computer chips. Visitors to HANNOVER MESSE 2017 are warmly invited to talk to the interdisciplinary research team about possible applications at Kiel University’s trade fair stand.