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How geckos stick, and mecho-geckos

By Buck Satan in News
Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 04:00:19 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Tonight on the way home from work, I heard the absolute coolest thing on National Public Radio that I have ever heard in my life - how geckos stick to things. Not only is it cool how they stick (it is magnetism, in case you are too lazy to listen or can't listen to the story) but that the way they stick is being adapted to robotics.

[editor's note, by rusty] Fish also submitted this, pointing us to this BBC article about it. I thought we'd just combine these and make the story round and firm and fully packed. Thanks Fish! :-) More below, by Buck Satan...

What got me the most is that it really is magnetism - but they don't have magnets in them (of course). It is that they can make their feet really really flat and have so much surface area touching between their feet and the thing that they are climbing that they just, well, stick!

The radio story even goes into why you and I can not stick to walls like a gecko (too many ridges on our hands). Give it a listen (it is the last story on the page). You need RealPlayer btw.

The story is also going to be apearing in Nature Magazine.


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How geckos stick, and mecho-geckos | 16 comments (16 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
The BBC article in the previous pos... (none / 0) (#5)
by maynard on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:01:25 PM EST

maynard voted -1 on this story.

The BBC article in the previous post is a better direct reference... isn't the NPR story also available online? I can understand wiping out the previous gecko post because of it's small write up, but this isn't much better. We need both of the links in these write ups to make a whole story. heh. :-)

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

darn it, right when I stop listenin... (none / 0) (#4)
by feline on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:18:06 PM EST

feline voted 1 on this story.

darn it, right when I stop listening to npr, there's something cool enough to be submitted twice on k5

'Hello sir, you don't look like someone who satisfies his wife.'

And now for something completely di... (none / 0) (#1)
by warpeightbot on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:54:14 PM EST

warpeightbot voted 1 on this story.

And now for something completely different...

Seriously, why not?

So if I iron my hands, will that wo... (none / 0) (#3)
by deimos on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:39:57 AM EST

deimos voted 1 on this story.

So if I iron my hands, will that work? :P
irc.kuro5hin.org: Good Monkeys, Great Typewriters.

That BBC story is so bizarre, I'd b... (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by jetpack on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 02:25:23 AM EST

jetpack voted 1 on this story.

That BBC story is so bizarre, I'd be disappointed if it wasnt posted to the main page. "they even run up walls in a vaccuum"? How long before their blood boiled and they exploded? And after all their blood vessels burst, did they still stick to the wall? :P
/* The beatings will continue until morale improves */

Contrary to what you see in movies.... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by mattdm on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 08:26:57 AM EST

Exposure to vacuum doesn't make people explode, and I doubt the situation is much worse for geckos.

[ Parent ]
Here is the Nature story (none / 0) (#7)
by Buck Satan on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 08:28:56 AM EST

Here is the story in Nature also. It pretty much says what the BBC and NPR stories talk about.

Static cling is NOT magnetism (none / 0) (#8)
by jabber on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 09:38:17 AM EST

Jeez! I can't believe that the BBC would actually say that geckos (not to be confused with Geico, so stop calling him!) are magnetic. I'll believe that they're clingy (staticly speaking), but it's not the same.

A refridgerator magnet is not the same as a glue-less window decal, is it?

Personally, I always thought it was suction. I thought they flattened out their feet into slight concavity, and the suction held them in place. While on vacation in Florida a few years back, I saw geckos shimmy up all sorts of surfaces - pained walls, stucco, brick and wood panels. Now, I'll buy the static cling method on paint, and tiny little claws or even friction on stucco, but neither one explains brick and wood panels... I mean, those little buggers were running around on the cieling ferchrisakes!

Although, MechaGecko appeals to me. It's the first step towards MechaGodzilla - and bringing yet another SciFi icon into the realm of reality. :)

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Re: Static cling is NOT magnetism (none / 0) (#9)
by odradek on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 10:03:43 AM EST

Right... Actually, the BBC didn't say it was magnetism. The BBC said it was Van der Waals forces. It was the person who posted the article who claimed it was magnetism. Possibly NPR as well, but I have no means for listening to NPR where I am.

[ Parent ]
Its not "magnetism"... (none / 0) (#10)
by Alhazred on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 10:41:19 AM EST

At least not the "refrigerator magnet" sort of magnetism, after all bricks and wood aren't magnetic...

However, when you bring 2 surfaces together REALLY closely, there are electromagnetic forces which will cause the 2 surfaces to "stick" together. Its the same way that static wrap seems to cling to everything, its just really smooth and flexible. So are Gecko's feet apparently!

I would assume they would indeed stick even in a vacuum. Somehow I don't think anyone's ACTUALLY tested that, the Gecko would pop in about 5 seconds flat, hehe.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
Re: Its not "magnetism"... (none / 0) (#11)
by rusty on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 12:55:35 PM EST

The NPR story actually says that they did test geckos in a vacuum. Weird.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: Its not "magnetism"... (none / 0) (#12)
by Arkady on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:19:12 PM EST

Ick. Not just weird. That's just sick.

The Mengele of gecko-dom? In some lab out there is an army of geckos plotting the bloody downfall of whoever's been exploding them in the name of science?


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
The Vacuum-Gecko Revolution (none / 0) (#13)
by rusty on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:24:00 PM EST

[tiny squeaky gecko-voice]: "We will rise up, and fight the oppressive scientists who put us in vacuu..."


Sorry, I couldn't resist. The Crimes Against Geckos Tribunal will convene next Wednesday.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Yet another "not magnetism" post (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by sri on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:33:03 PM EST

Look carefully at both the BBC article and the one in Nature. Neither one claims that the force is magnetic in nature. It can't be! Most materials are relatively nonpermeable and don't interact very strong magnetically.

Fundamentally, the force is electrostatic, but it's a little more subtle than that (it's not like cling wrap either!). The scientists believe that it's the Van der Waals force that provides the adhesive force. When an electrically neutral molecule is polarized (has a nonvanishing dipole moment), the electric field due to its dipole moment can cause other molecules to become polarized. This leads to a weak attractive force between the molecules which is strongest at close range since dipole fields die off much more quickly than monopole fields. This is the force to which the scientists are referring.

Re: Yet another "not magnetism" post (none / 0) (#15)
by dgph on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 02:09:45 PM EST

I found a nice, microscopic photo of the underside of a gecko's foot.

[ Parent ]
Geckos (Slightly Off-topic) (none / 0) (#16)
by prod on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 12:39:40 AM EST

Am I the only one who thought of GeckOS (as in Geck Operating System) when I saw the "OS" at the end of a word. You know you've spent too much time around computers when you start mistaking english words for computer acronyms.

How geckos stick, and mecho-geckos | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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