Gecko Adhesives for Museum Collections

Project Outline

This project is aimed at creating a suite of new, safe and effective adhesives for museums and galleries to further develop best practice in transport, packing and display; with an emphasis on exhibition mounting. The diversity of materials and shapes that need to be accommodated create challenges for secure packaging, transport and exhibition mounting.

Geckos are a group of lizards containing about 1450 species in 118 genera. Around 60% of these have a unique ability to walk on every type of surface, regardless of the angle between the surface and the ground. First to write about this amazing ability was Aristotle, about 2500 years ago. Research has shown that the gecko has rows of nanohairs on the underside of its feet. Such hairs, called setae, have nano-dimensions (about 3-4 μm in diameter and 30-130 μm in length) with even smaller hairs, called spatulae, at the top. At the very top, these spatulae have dimensions of about 150×5 nm. The nanosize of this whole system allows it to fit into the pores of every surface. That close contact allows for attachment of the fibres with van der Waals forces and electrostatic interactions. Gecko-inspired dry adhesives (GDAs) are created to mimic this behaviour through moulding polymer films into arrays of micropillars. However, currently created GDAs work only on smooth surfaces, what is not of much help for conservators who mostly deal with surfaces that are porous and uneven.

An objective of this research is to use the GDA fabrication technology and understanding of the fundamental process to design and fabricate GDAs that will work on fibrous and porous materials and rough surfaces, because these make up a significant portion of surfaces encountered in museum collections. The suite of GDAs for short and mid-term mounting and securing objects for packing, transport and display will be designed to be easily reversible and serve as an adhesive for six months of continuous use with the objects which we select from The Hunterian collections. The choice of object and application will be driven by the problems identified by the team at the University of Glasgow of: scientists, conservators, collections management and curators who together will select problems that are ‘highly likely’ to ‘extremely unlikely’ to be solved by the use of GDAs. This selection will be based on our current knowledge of the objects, state of the art GDA properties and how we may design them to meet our requirements for each application.

Design solutions will be fabricated into working prototypes at The James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. These prototypes will be tested in the Hunterian Conservation and Technical Art History research laboratory to characterise their mechanical properties (tensile, creep) in different environmental conditions. They will then be tested (tensile, shear, peel and creep) as an adhesive with a complete, part or surface reconstruction of the chosen object. The reconstructions will be prepared after surface analysis of the chosen objects using a combination of techniques including light microscopy, environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) and contact angle analysis. This will form the basis for future research and design applications.

TAHG Participants

Christina Young and Jacek Olender



This project is a collaboration between the College of Arts, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre, and The Hunterian at University of Glasgow. It is funded by the AXA research Fund.