I hate to give away my best handy-woman tips, but when push comes to shove, I use duct tape. Leaky pipe? The silver sticky magic of duct tape provides a quick fix. Ditto for everything else that snaps, cracks, rips or falls apart. I’m not saying you’re going to have the most attractive end product, though duct tape now comes in a great variety of colors and patterns, but you’ll have made a solid repair. I recently read an article, however, about a new material that’s stickier and stronger than duct tape and—this is the best part—reusable. I’m sold! (Sorry, duct tape.)
Researchers got the idea for this new wonder adhesive by observing the way geckos easily sidle up walls. Although it looks like magic keeps the lizard from tumbling onto the floor, the van der Waals force is responsible for the feat. The subtle attraction between the wall and the multitude of microscopic fibers on geckos’ toes has a powerful effect akin to static’s ability to attach loose socks to sweaters in the dryer. Imitating the gecko’s sticky feet, scientists made a fabric composed of carbon fibers and then spread a stretchy material over that.
Geckos have inspired quite a few scientists in their quest for a cheap, strong adhesive. Other attempts have incorporated carbon nanotubes into the design, but making large quantities of the material has been a challenge. This recent carbon-fiber model proves cutting-edge not because it’s the strongest, but because it will be easier and cheaper to make. Of course the statistics are impressive. Equivalent to six geckos’ feet in strength—and I would love to see geckos’ feet made a standard for tape the way horsepower is for engines—a hand-sized patch can hold up more than 650 pounds of weight. The researchers wrote that they had successfully stuck a 42-inch television onto a glass surface, which is cool, if maybe not the most practical use. The tape will have a future in holding together car parts and computer parts if all goes well. It could also prove useful in the world of robotics, giving robots the gecko-like ability of climbing vertical surfaces.
Don’t expect to see Gecko Tape out on the market for a while, though. There are still some important areas that need to be addressed. The tape needs to work on most surfaces, rather than just glass. Scientists must also figure out the endurance of the tape. If a heavy object only lasts 30 minutes before dropping to the floor, it will be hard to find many practical uses for the new adhesive. And then you’ll just have to patch up whatever fell with duct tape anyways.
Hmm, maybe the old-fashioned silver tape does still rule supreme. At least for a little bit longer.