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Fabrication and Characterization of Gecko-inspired Fibrillar Adhesive


Over the last decade, geckos' remarkable ability to stick to and climb surfaces found in nature has motivated a wide range of scientific interest in engineering gecko-mimetic surface for various adhesive and high friction applications. The high adhesion and friction of its pads have been attributed to a complex array of hairy structures, which maximize surface area for van der Waals interaction between the toes and the counter-surface. While advances in micro- and nanolithography technique have allowed fabrication of increasingly sophisticated gecko mimetic surfaces, it remains a challenge to produce an adhesive as robust as that of the natural gecko pads. In order to rationally design gecko adhesives, understanding the contact behavior of fibrillar interface is critical.

The first chapter of the dissertation introduces gecko adhesion and its potential applications, followed by a brief survey of gecko-inspired adhesives. Challenges that limit the performance of the current adhesives are presented. In particular, it is pointed out that almost all testing of gecko adhesives have been on clean, smooth glass, which is ideal for adhesion due to high surface energy and low roughness. Surfaces in application are more difficult to stick to, so the understanding of failure modes in low energy and rough surfaces is important.

The second chapter presents a fabrication method for thermoplastic gecko adhesive to be used for a detailed study of fibrillar interfaces. Low-density polyethylene nanofibers are replicated from a silicon nanowire array fabricated by colloidal lithography and metal-catalyzed chemical etching. This process yields a highly ordered array of nanofibers over a large area with control over fiber diameter, length, and number density. The high yield and consistency of the process make it ideal for a systematic study on factors that affect adhesion and friction of gecko adhesives.

The following three chapters examine parameters that affect macroscale friction of fibrillar adhesives. Basic geometric factors, namely fiber length and diameter, are optimized on smooth glass for high friction. The test surfaces are then processed to intentionally introduce roughness or lower the surface energy in a systematic and quantifiable manner, so that the failure mechanisms of the adhesive can be investigated in detail. In these studies, observed macroscale friction is related to the nano-scale contact behavior with simple mechanical models to establish criteria to ensure high performance of fibrillar adhesives.

Chapter 6 presents various methods to produce more complex fiber structures. The metal-assisted chemical etching of silicon nanowires is studied in detail, where the chemical composition of the etching bath can be varied to produce clumped, tapered, tilted, and curved nanowires, which provide interesting templates for molding and are potentially useful for applications in various silicon nanowire devices. Hierarchical fiber structures are fabricated by a few different methods, as well as composite structures where the fibers are embedded in another material. A way to precisely control tapering of microfibers is demonstrated, and the effect of tapering on macroscale friction is studied in detail. The final chapter summarizes the dissertation and suggests possible future works for both further investigating fibrillar interfaces and improving the current gecko adhesive.

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