Biomimetics, the science that adapts designs from nature to engineer solutions for human problems, has found an abundance of inspiration in the humble gecko, notably adhesives with temporary and reversible properties. Some researchers see potential medical applications, such as sutures and wound-care products. Stanford mechanical engineering graduate student Elliot Hawkes has another purpose in mind: scaling vertical glass walls like a real-life Spider-Man.
Hawkes is working with a team of engineers to develop controllable, reusable adhesive materials that, like gecko toes, can form a strong bond with smooth surfaces but also release with minimal effort. In previous research, the performance of gecko-inspired adhesives decreased as the application increased in size. Hawkes and his co-workers have developed a device that shares large loads evenly across every patch of the adhesive, making it possible for a person to climb a glass wall, as shown in the video below.