Imagine being the mischief you could get up to if you could walk the ceilings, hiding from your boss, scaring relatives in a massive bat costume and laughing at the slow progress of commuters on the Tube while you steam ahead walking up-side down where there is no traffic. It would be a dream. Imagine then, if scientific advances in the real world could allow you to share a power with one of your favourite comic superheroes. Impossible right? Maybe not.
Having the ability to walk across the ceiling like Stan Lee's creation Spiderman may not be as insanely ridiculous as it sounds. Scientists across the world are competing to turn this implausible idea into reality, using the Gecko Tape technology first conceived by Nobel Prize winning physicist Andre Geim.
This ingenious technology is an example of biomimicry, a branch of research looking at the adaptations of a particular species in the animal kingdom, first to understand its physiognomy, then to synthetically recreate its unique and highly valuable characteristics in a laboratory.
Geim wanted to develop a material that used the directional adhesion present over the lizard toes, which are covered in millions of microscopic hairs, called setea. The evolutionary feature allows the lizard to scale walls and ceilings regardless of the surfaces orientation because of the Van Der Waals forces existing, an intermolecular force which operates over very small distances and bonds to just about anything. The Gecko can then release its grip simply by changing the contact angle at the surface.
Geim is lucky he was not born a few hundred years ago or he would've been burnt at the stake for witchcraft! Lizard feet? Walking on ceilings? Spiderman? Give me a break.
Geckos can support their own weight with a single digit. Hypothetically then, when the technology becomes more finely tuned, humans could eventually walk the ceilings like Spiderman. But Geim remains hopeful of another hero emerging, saying: "Geckoman is less than science fiction these days."