Justin Dowd: The True Story of Gecko Feet

September 24, 2012

Your day-to-day life will soon be affected by the bottom of a gecko foot. When you hear atomic physics one of the last images in your mind would be a reptile.

But geckos have one of the most amazing adaptations in the animal kingdom. The bottom of their feet isn’t sticky, but covered in tiny hairs like a rug. Each hair has up to 1,000 split ends. A single gecko has around 2 billion split-end tips.

When these creatures walk on a leaf the atoms in the tip of each hair come close to the atoms in the leaf. When an atom in one object comes close to an atom in another, there’s a tiny attractive force like unimaginably small magnets. This is happening now between your body and everything you touch. Humans don’t notice because there aren’t enough atoms in our rough skin close to other surfaces.
A gecko’s 2 billion hairs achieve such a high level of contact, there is enough attraction between foot atoms and leaf atoms to support the gecko’s weight, even with a single toe. They lift their feet by literally peeling the atoms in their toes away from atoms in other objects.

This atomic adaptation allows these creatures to run up the smoothest surfaces known to man without slipping. Geckos don’t hold onto objects by friction, but by the total attractive force of atoms in close proximity.

Read Justin’s full article in the Metro and see his latest chalk animation:

http://www.metro.us/boston/national/article/1152639–the-true-story-of-gecko-feet