Direct evidence of acid-base interactions in gecko adhesion

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Science Advances  19 May 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 21, eabd9410
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd9410


While it is generally accepted that van der Waals (vdW) forces govern gecko adhesion, several studies indicate contributions from non-vdW forces and highlight the importance of understanding the adhesive contact interface. Previous work hypothesized that the surface of gecko setae is hydrophobic, with nonpolar lipid tails exposed on the surface. However, direct experimental evidence supporting this hypothesis and its implications on the adhesion mechanism is lacking. Here, we investigate the sapphire-setae contact interface using interface-sensitive spectroscopy and provide direct evidence of the involvement of acid-base interactions between polar lipid headgroups exposed on the setal surface and sapphire. During detachment, a layer of unbound lipids is left as a footprint due to cohesive failure within the lipid layer, which, in turn, reduces wear to setae during high stress sliding. The absence of this lipid layer enhances adhesion, despite a small setal-substrate contact area. Our results show that gecko adhesion is not exclusively a vdW-based, residue-free system.

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