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Home  > Publications  > Blog  > Adhesives: Emulating Nature

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Adhesives: Emulating Nature

Thursday, 22 August 2013 | Posted by: Yvonne Hönemann, European Coatings Journal

Recently, I read an interesting study about the ladybird. This tiny creature has no problem walking up and down walls. Just like other insects.

But how does it manage this?

The answer lies in the feet and legs. The ladybird has a plethora of fine hairs which enable it to cling to different surfaces. A research team from the Zoological Institute at Christian-Albrecht University in Kiel (Germany) has found that the different sections of the hairs have different composition and properties. The hair roots are hard and inflexible, whereas the tips are soft and flexible. 

Now, of course, the question arises: could we humans benefit from such an amazing natural phenomenon? How might the ladybird serve as a model for developing materials of the future like adhesives?

I believe we should always turn to Mother Nature to see what she has to offer. She often provides a blueprint for interesting materials that we can emulate in our daily lives. The "Lotus effect” and "self-healing properties” are just two examples that have been known for some time.

Then there is the gecko, which has no difficulty in gripping smooth, vertical surfaces, such as polished glass and smooth bamboo canes. It does so without relying on sticky secretions, either. Here, again, the feet hold the secret. The undersides of a gecko’s feet are covered with rows of small lamellae covered with tiny fine hairs. These hairs are capable of moulding themselves precisely to the contours of surfaces. This increases the size of the contact area to cling onto – which the gecko does with aplomb.   

I came across another interesting article even more recently. Ocean dwellers, such as octopuses, are now serving as role models for camouflage coatings. Cephalopods, to which squids and octopuses belong, have skin cells that can reflect visible and infrared light. These cells contain unique proteins called reflectins that, when set off by acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, cause a set of proteins to condense and trigger the colour-changing process. Researchers in California have developed camouflage coatings based on this principle that shift colour when triggered by the user’s surroundings.

These are just some of the countless models which Mother Nature provides for us. We should always remember, though, that natural phenomena are not always easy to replicate in everyday life. They require lots of time and research, and sometimes we have to accept that they are simply too complex for the laboratory.

As has been the case for the ladybird. Now, though, material science is will to take up the standard. Dr. Jan Michels from the Zoological Institute of Christian-Albrecht University in Kiel is only too aware of the enormity of the challenge. The problem is that the constituent material of the ladybird’s adhesive hairs is so complex that there is no known material capable of replicating it.

We look forward to the results of the research. I, at any rate, am pretty certain that one day we will see an adhesive that works on the principle of the ladybird’s legs.

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