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Biological Adhesion for Locomotion on Rough Surfaces: Basic Principles and A Theorist's View

  • B. N. J. Persson


Surface roughness is the main reason why macroscopic solids usually do not adhere to each other with any measurable strength, and a root-mean-square roughness amplitude of only 1 μm is enough to completely remove the adhesion between normal rubber (with an elastic modulus E ≈ 1 MPa) and a hard, nominally flat substrate. Biological adhesion systems used by insects and geckos for locomotion are built from a relatively stiff material (keratin or chitin–protein composite with E ≈ 1 GPa). Nevertheless, strong adhesion is possible even to very rough substrate surfaces by using noncompact solid structures consisting of fibers (setae) and plates (spatulae). Biological systems use a hierarchical building principle, where the thickness of the fibers or plates decreases as one approaches the outer surface of the attachment pad, to optimize the binding to rough surfaces while simultaneously avoiding elastic instabilities, for example, lateral bundling of fibers.



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