Surface Wettability Plays a Significant Role in Gecko Adhesion Underwater

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Although we now have thousands of studies focused on the nano-, micro-, and whole-animal mechanics of gecko adhesion on clean, dry substrates, we know relatively little about the effects of water on gecko adhesion. For many gecko species, however, rainfall frequently wets the natural surfaces they navigate. In an effort to begin closing this gap, we tested the adhesion of geckos on submerged substrates that vary in their wettability. When tested on a wet hydrophilic surface, geckos produced a significantly lower shear adhesive force (5.4 ± 1.33 N) compared with a dry hydrophilic surface (17.1 ± 3.93 N). In tests on an intermediate wetting surface and a hydrophobic surface, we found no difference in shear adhesion between dry and wet contact. Finally, in tests on polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), we found that geckos clung significantly better to wet PTFE (8.0 ± 1.09 N) than dry PTFE (1.6 ± 0.66 N). To help explain our results, we developed models based on thermodynamic theory of adhesion for contacting surfaces in different media and found that we can predict the ratio of shear adhesion in water to that in air. Our findings provide insight into how geckos may function in wet environments and also have significant implications for the development of a synthetic gecko mimic that retains adhesion in water.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA





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