Geckos have the extraordinary ability to prevent their sticky feet from fouling while running on dusty walls and ceilings. Understanding gecko adhesion and self-cleaning mechanisms is essential for elucidating animal behaviours and rationally designing gecko-inspired devices. Here we report a unique self-cleaning mechanism possessed by the nano-pads of gecko spatulae. The difference between the velocity-dependent particle-wall adhesion and the velocity-independent spatula-particle dynamic response leads to a robust self-cleaning capability, allowing geckos to efficiently dislodge dirt during their locomotion. Emulating this natural design, we fabricate artificial spatulae and micromanipulators that show similar effects, and that provide a new way to manipulate micro-objects. By simply tuning the pull-off velocity, our gecko-inspired micromanipulators, made of synthetic microfibers with graphene-decorated micro-pads, can easily pick up, transport, and drop-off microparticles for precise assembling. This work should open the door to the development of novel self-cleaning adhesives, smart surfaces, microelectromechanical systems, biomedical devices, and more.
A running gecko can adhere to any surfaces at wet or dry conditions, whilst it keeps its toe pads clean. Here, Xu et al. attribute this self-cleaning mechanism to the rate-independent adhesion response between dirt particles and the gecko's foot and use synthetic microfibers to reproduce the effect.