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Kiel Researchers Develop Bioinspired Adhesive Material Controlled with UV Light

Published on 2017-03-14. Author : SpecialChem

Adhesive mechanisms in the natural world, as used by geckos and other animals when they walk upside down on the ceiling, have many advantages: they are always strongly adhesive - and without any glues or residues.

Kiel Researchers Develop Bioinspired Adhesive Material Controlled with UV Light
Kiel Researchers Develop Bioinspired Adhesive Material
Controlled with UV Light

Scientists at Kiel University are researching how these mechanisms can be artificially created. An interdisciplinary research team from Materials Science, Chemistry and Biology has now succeeded in developing a bioinspired adhesive material that can be controlled remotely by using UV light. This way it is possible to precisely transport objects in a micro-range.

The findings could be interesting for applications in the fields of robotics, industry and medical technology. The Kiel-based research team's results were published in the scientific journal Science Robotics on 18 January.

Artificial Adhesive Mechanism


In nature, mechanical stimuli such as muscle movements ensure that animals’ legs adhere to surfaces and can be detached again. The scientists in Kiel are using light to control their artificial adhesive mechanism instead, which they have built inspired by models from nature.

Emre Kizilkan from the Functional Morphology and Biomechanics research group under Professor Stanislav Gorb at the Zoological Institute, said:

“The advantage of light is that it can be used very precisely. It is reversible, so it can be switched on and off again, and that very quickly.”

Elastic Porous Material


So the scientists first developed an elastic porous material (LCE, liquid crystal elastomer) which bends when illuminated with UV light, on account of its special molecular structure. When doing so, they noticed that the more porous the material, the more it bents. The researchers made use of this fact.

Kizilkan explained:

“Due to their structures, porous materials can be very easily incorporated to other materials. So we tested what happens when we combined the elastic material, which reacts well to light, with a bioinspired material that has good adhesive properties.”

The result is an intelligent, adhesive composite material that can be controlled with light. The surface consists of mushroom-shaped adhesive microstructures, as can be found on the feet of some species of beetle. Flat or three-dimensional small elements such as microscope slides or glass spheres can attach and be picked up.

Controlling Transport with Light


When the composite material is illuminated with UV light, it bends. Because of the bending of the surface more and more adhesive elements detach from the object, until it can finally be dropped down again.

Kizilkan explained:

“We were able to show that our new material can be used to transport objects. Moreover, we demonstrated that the transport can be controlled very precisely with light – on a micro-level.”

Gorb added:

“We use light as a remote control, so to say. Our bioinspired adhesive material doesn’t leave any residues on the objects, either.”

The research group’s discovery is therefore especially interesting when building sensitive sensors or micro computer chips. They need to be manufactured in an environment that is protected from external influences and impurities, such as Kiel University’s cleanroom.

“In the long term, we would like to use the new material to develop micro-robots which can be controlled by light to move forwards and climb walls,” is Professor Gorb’s insight.

The research project is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 677 “Function by Switching” at Kiel University, in which 100 scientists from Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science, Pharmacy and Medicine are working on a cross-disciplinary basis to develop switchable molecular machines which can be controlled by light, for example.

About Kiel University

Kiel is a university of interconnecting and interactive academic cultures. It consistently applies inter-disciplinary approaches to address major, cross-cutting social topics such as climate change, health and human development. This has attracted a dramatic rise in third-party funding, while also leading to numerous publications on the relevant areas of research.

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Source: Kiel University
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