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August 30, 2005

Spiderman, For Real?

I always thought it was kinda dumb that Spidey just grew some little hairs on his hands and suddenly could stick to walls.

Turns out that's one superpower that science may soon duplicate. Attempting to mimic the surface-touching maximizing property of a gecko's feet, scientists have discovered "nanotech velcro," growing hairs at least 200 times as adhesive as found in nature.

Robots' hands will, hopefully, be able to grab items without dropping them or crushing them.

And a cool pair of Spiderman-gloves might just allow you to ascend walls.

In a recent issue of the journal Chemical Communications, the team reported that it had indeed produced synthetic hairs, with 200 times the sticking power of the ones made by nature.

Although the scientists have tested only minute amounts of the material, they estimate that if its properties hold up on a larger scale, a dime-size patch of it could support 2 to 22 pounds, depending on how densely the hairs were packed.

"Think of it almost like nano-Velcro," said Ali Dhinojwala, an associate professor of polymer science at the University of Akron.

The synthetic hairs - one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair - are made of highly flexible carbon cylinders, or nanotubes, embedded in a plastic base like bristles in a hairbrush.

The tubes are strong and practically unbreakable, Professor Dhinojwala said, adding that other groups had tried making the tubes of plastic, but it turned out to be too weak.

He said people had asked him whether the new material could be fashioned into gloves and shoes for rock climbers.

"I'm a little hesitant on going too fast," Professor Dhinojwala said. "Nature has had more time than we have had. I would hesitate to extrapolate. But the imagination is there."

The odd thing about science and engineering is that it keeps advancing in unexpected ways. You think about a cure for cancer or a flyin' car-- it doesn't give you that. But then it develops Spideygloves.


Thanks to Michael.


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posted by Ace at 05:27 PM

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