Engineers' Gecko Project Defies Gravity

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Prototype This!

Lyn Verinsky climbs the UCOP office testing a newly developed Gecko adhesive created by UC Berkeley researchers.

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Gravity posed no threat to the Gecko Woman who scaled a five-story concrete wall, armed with nothing more than the research of a UC Berkeley professor, some rope and gecko claws.

Inspired by the research of Robert Full, a UC Berkeley integrative biology professor, the claws are a prototype invention that mimics the gecko's biological characteristics, said Mike North, the gecko claw project's lead engineer and host of Discovery Channel's "Prototype This," which showcases engineers testing new inventions.

Engineers tested the prototype by having local recreational rock climber Lyn Verinsky use the gecko claws to climb a concrete wall at the UC Office of the President building in Oakland on Friday.

Amid cries of "Don't over grip" and "That wall doesn't own you, girl" from engineers on the ground, Verinsky was able to climb three-quarters of the wall, wielding one gecko claw in each hand and some rope on her feet.

Engineers led by North began constructing the gecko claws five weeks ago in preparation for the prototype testing. Each claw is a 4.5-pound square plate consisting of 1,500 fishhooks embedded in hard plastic and can support a weight of up to 150 pounds.

"It's my baby ... We've gone a step further and we've got about 1,500 claws and they are meant to catch on to little surfaces on the wall," said North, who also worked with researchers from Stanford University on the project.

Full's research on geckos helped the engineers understand that although claws help the gecko climb rough surfaces, it is the animal's microscopic toe hairs that allow them to climb smooth surfaces, North said.

"This project was inspired by biology expert in the area, Bob Full. His studies on geckos were the road map. It was the starting point," North said.

The wall was chosen for its rough concrete surface and the project's relation to the University of California.

To prepare herself for the testing, Verinsky practiced with one claw to make sure it would hold her weight.

"The gecko claws really did exceed my expectations. I am really glad to participate," Verinsky said.

The applications of the gecko claws may not be immediately obvious, but North said they could be used in small robots for search and rescue operations or space exploration.

"It would be neat to see it one step further," North said.

While engineers focused on the science behind the gecko claws during the test, onlookers were fascinated by Verinksy's ascent up the wall. Upon descending, she was dubbed "Gecko Woman" by the engineers.

"It's the ultimate to climb pure wall. It's great that she was able to do that with this technology," said Samson Phan, a Stanford University graduate student who watched the testing out of personal interest.


Contact Erika Oblea at [email protected]

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