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How stick insects honed friction to grip without sticking
Date:2/19/2014

s on 'contact area', the amount of close contact between surfaces. In rigid materials, such as steel, even the tiniest amount of surface roughness means there is actually relatively little 'contact area' when pressed against other surfaces - so any amount of friction is very small.

On the other hand, soft materials achieve a lot of contact with surfaces, but - due to the larger amount of contact area - there is also a certain amount of adhesion or 'stick' not there with hard materials.

To solve this, stick insect's hairy friction pads employ three main tricks to allow contact area to increase quickly under pressure, creating a scale or 'hierarchy' of grip with absolutely no stick:

  • Both the pad itself and the tips of the hairs are rounded. This means that, when pressure is applied, more contact area is generated - like pushing down on a rubber ball.

  • Some hairs are shorter than others, so the more pressure, the more hairs come into contact with the surface.

  • When even more pressure is applied, some of the hairs bend over and make side contact - greatly increasing contact area with very little extra force.

These design features work in harmony to generate large amounts of friction with comparatively tiny amounts of pressure from the insect. Importantly, there is hardly any contact area without some tiny amount of pressure - which means that the specialised 'frictional hairs' don't stick.

Arrays of tiny hairs have been found before, for example on the feet of geckos, beetles and flies. However, these hairs are designed to stick, and are used when creatures are vertical or hanging upside down.

Sticky hairs are completely aligned and have flat tips - meaning that they immediately make full contact that hardly changes with additional weight - as opposed to friction hairs, with their higgledy-piggledy height ranges and rounded tips.

"We investigate these insects to try and under
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Contact: Fred Lewsey
fred.lewsey@admin.cam.ac.uk
44-122-376-5566
University of Cambridge
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3

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