Today’s Solutions: September 28, 2023

From gecko skin to bee slobber, the natural world has been a great source of inspiration for scientists working on advanced adhesive materials. More recently, scientists in Japan have drawn inspiration from the clingy footpads of fruit flies to develop a material that can be attached and detached over and over like a piece of Velcro.

Researchers from Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science came up with the novel material after testing more sustainable alternatives to the many strong adhesives of the market that are unable to be recycled.

And while reusable adhesives are nothing new, the currently available options are often complex and expensive to produce. This led the researchers to come up with cheaper and easier solutions, eventually zeroing in on the footpads of flies, which form adhesive structures in a highly efficient fashion.

A fly’s footpads consist of spatula-shaped bristles that grow on the footpads and enable the insects to attach to objects repeatedly. By placing them under the microscope the team was able to unlock some of their secrets.

After staining the fly legs and labeling key proteins with fluorescent dyes, the researchers observed the natural process through which these bristles are formed in pupal fruit flies. The team then successfully replicated this process at room temperature, using stretched fibers to form the spatula-like bristles with a gel material at the tip

This process turned out to be not only energy-efficient and low cost, but the material also demonstrated some impressive capabilities in early testing – with a single fiber proving strong enough to suspend a silicon wafer from it weighing 52.8 g.

Given the low-cost, energy-efficient production method of the material, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it finds use in a number of different industries.

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