Conventional pressure sensitive adhesives (PSAs) are fabricated from soft viscoelastic materials that satisfy Dahlquist's criterion for tack with a Young's modulus (E) of 100 kPa or less at room temperature and 1 Hz. In contrast, the adhesive on the toes of geckos is made of β-keratin, a stiff material with E at least four orders of magnitude greater than the upper limit of Dahlquist's criterion. Therefore, one would not expect aβ -keratin structure to function as a PSA by deforming readily to make intimate molecular contact with a variety of surface profiles. However, since the gecko adhesive is a microstructure in the form of an array of millions of high aspect ratio shafts (setae), the effective elastic modulus (Eeff) is much lower than E of bulkβ -keratin. In the first test of the Eeff of a gecko setal adhesive, we measured the forces resulting from deformation of isolated arrays of tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) setae during vertical compression, and during tangential compression at angles of +45° and -45°. We tested the hypothesis that Eeff of gecko setae falls within Dahlquist's criterion for tack, and evaluated the validity of a model of setae as cantilever beams. Highly linear forces of deformation under all compression conditions support the cantilever model. Eeff of setal arrays during vertical and +45° compression (along the natural path of drag of the setae) were 83±4.0 kPa and 86±4.4 kPa (means ± s.e.m.), respectively. Consistent with the predictions of the cantilever model, setae became significantly stiffer when compressed against the natural path of drag: Eeff during -45° compression was 110±4.7 kPa. Unlike synthetic PSAs, setal arrays act as Hookean elastic solids; setal arrays function as a bed of springs with a directional stiffness, assisting alignment of the adhesive spatular tips with the contact surface during shear loading.
- © The Company of Biologists Limited 2006