The Stickiest Non-Sticky Substance

The Stickiest Non-Sticky Substance

Adhesives based on gecko skin can hold huge weights – without sticking to anything. Head to to start your free trial. The first 200 of you will get 20% off Brilliant’s annual premium subscription.

Thanks to Dr. Mark Cutkosky, Tony Chen, Amar Hajj-Ahmad, and the rest of the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab at Stanford University for showing us the power of gecko adhesives.

Russell, A. P., Stark, A. Y., & Higham, T. E. (2019). The integrative biology of gecko adhesion: historical review, current understanding, and grand challenges. Integrative and comparative biology, 59(1), 101-116. –

Hajj-Ahmad, A., Suresh, S. A., and Cutkosky, M. R. (June 6, 2021). “Cutting to the Point: Directly Machined Metal Molds for Directional Gecko-Inspired Adhesives.” ASME. J. Micro Nano-Manuf. doi:

Kerst, Capella F., “Gecko inspired adhesives : permanent practical manufacturing, new materials, and applications,” PhD Thesis, Stanford Universisty, December 2020.

Suresh, S.A. “Engineering Gecko-Inspired Adhesives.” Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University, 2020. [Online]. Available:

Suresh, S.A., Kerst, C.F., Cutkosky, M.R., Hawkes, E.W. “Spatially variant microstructured adhesive with one-way friction.” Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 2019. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2018.0705

Glick, P., Suresh, S.A., Ruffatto III, D., Cutkosky, M.R., Tolley, M.T., and Parness, A. “A soft robotic gripper with gecko-inspired adhesive.” Robotics and Automation Letters. 2018. doi:10.1109/LRA.2018.2792688.

Christensen, D.L., Hawkes, E.W., Suresh, S.A., Ladenheim, K. and Cutkosky, M.R., “µTugs: Enabling Microrobots to Deliver Macro Forces with Controllable Adhesives,” IEEE/ICRA 2015 (preprint).
Hawkes, E. W., “Applying Dry Adhesives to the Real World,” Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University, 2015.

Special thanks to our Patreon supporters:
Meg Noah, Bernard McGee, James Sanger, Elliot Miller, Brian Busbee, Jerome Barakos M.D., Amadeo Bee, TTST, Balkrishna Heroor, Chris LaClair, John H. Austin Jr., Eric Sexton, John Kiehl, Anton Ragin, Diffbot, Gnare, Dave Kircher, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Josh Hibschman, Mac Malkawi, Mike Schneider, John Bauer, Jim Buckmaster, Juan Benet, Sunil Nagaraj, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Stephen Wilcox, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi

Written by Derek Muller & Petr Lebedev
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Animation by Ivy Tello
Filmed by Derek Muller, Raquel Nuno & Albert Leung
Additional video/photos supplied by Pond5 & Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound
Exec. Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

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36 Responses

  1. NightHawkInLight says:

    Definitely the most impressive gecko tape I’ve seen. Neat stuff

  2. Sebastian Roth says:

    This exact effect was the reason I studied materials science in my masters. It’s just incredible how far we have come, that we are able to use such effects on materials that *.*

    • Dooplon says:

      @hades I’d imagine so if the vinyl sheets mentioned use this force, but I have noticed some that are noticeably sticky one one side so perhaps some indeed use a thin adhesive in some fashion

    • hades says:

      Hey, a quick question, is this effect also used when new products have those plastic sheets we peel off (phone screens, home appliances, electronics, etc)? I’ve always wondered how they can be stuck on to objects without seemingly any glue being involved.

    • Enorazza says:

      And how much yet we have still to learn. Look on how far from an actual gecko we still are

  3. Geoffry Gifari says:

    I’m surprised how creative the team got when manufacturing the material/characterizing the force. I thought it would be closer to the methods of silicon etching and nanostructure growing

    • Bill Kong says:

      lol I was amazed how jank it is. This is how I would do it in my basement

    • hazonku says:

      Right? This is actually FAR closer to a process that can be easily transformed into a mass production process.

    • Deputy Dog says:

      And not a carbon nanotube to be found.

    • Nick's Gmail says:

      @SibulaThis type of tech is useful for industry. Idk if you’ve ever been inside a factory, or any warehouse/distribution center, but they’re not a fancy place. When I worked at UPS, the machines there felt kind of janky as well, but they never messed up, they were just made to do their job and be the lowest cost. It feels like this is just industry standard, and it’s good because it makes learning the stuff easier if there isn’t a bunch of fluff material on there.

    • LeDumpsterFire says:

      Imagine one day in the future when they’re able to properly mimic those tiny structures with something like carbon nanotubes, which I imagine would be even stronger and better than the real deal

  4. Voidlighter says:

    I’m blown away by how Vertiasium finds such fascinating topics all the time. I love so much learning fun things like this!

  5. EinStein says:

    When I was in School, about 15 years ago, we had this book “Geko’s Foot” in our library, it was full of how amazing and fascinating the Geko’s foot was! The ideas discussed in the book are now a reality! Science does make progress!


      @Robert Pruitt I mean it is easier to sit your ass at home and demand progress when you are not the one at work. We tend to see scientific and technological advancement as something that is bound to happen and that we are 100% entitled to. Although it’s like it’s almost impossible to slow its pace down now ’cause many hands are on deck, these things have always been done by people like ourselves and they actually take time. It’s just that successful ones are easy to spot than thousand of the unknown, failed procedures leading to successful ones.

    • Robert Pruitt says:

      @Earthling six billion something and one
      Things have always taken quite a while. We just didn’t hear about the research until it was getting close to market.

      We might be more advanced than in decades past, but we’re also doing more complicated things.

      It took NASA 20 years to get JWST done. But they had to invent half a dozen new technologies and advance them enough to be usable in space.

      It took 11 years to make the Blu-ray. Even though it’s just a DVD with a different color laser and new programming.

      It was 80 years after the invention of the fridge before you could buy one in a store.

    • EyeSack says:

      @Earthling six billion something and one it makes nature even more amazing

    • Earthling six billion something and one says:

      It’s kinda sad that this is the progress after decades.

  6. FeeshUnofficial says:

    I remember years ago as a young teen reading in a science magazine that someone was developing this. It’s so cool to actually learn about the progress

  7. Matthys Loedolff says:

    I remember in one of my nanotechnology courses at university around 2012 one of the physics lecturers told us about people investigating this sort of technology. Amazing to see it in action.

  8. I Love Cats says:

    Idea that a living organism, and somewhat large at that, uses van der waal forces to move is mindblowing

  9. Owns says:

    Yes, Derek. I do want to see you climb something using gecko socks.

    One question, regardless of how strong the grip is, the material it’s made of has to be strong enough to with stand the weight of what it’s pulling doesn’t it? So what are those strips made of that can withstand the weight of a car between just 4 of them?

    • Skinflaps Meatslapper says:

      You could do the same thing with regular duct tape, since there’s not a lot of force involved, but the op provides a valid point. If one were to use this for lifting any meaningful amount of weight, the material will need to be far stronger.

    • Alex C says:

      You mean the ones they use to pull the car with the little robots? It isn’t withstanding the car’s weight, just the pulling force

    • Alex Larson says:

      Keep in mind the idea that the tape is “pulling” the weight of car is a little misleading. It’s not like the tape needs to hold the weight of a 3000lb sedan. All you need to do to pull a car on flat ground is to overcome the rolling resistance of the car while it is in neutral. For a 3000lbs sedan that might be something like 50-100lbs. This is an amount of force humans can easily provide hence why you’ll see people pushing their car when stuck or out of gas.

    • Rémi MIALON mdr says:

      Les bandelettes n’ont pas à supporter le poids de la voiture mais la force de traction et elles sont plusieurs pour se partager cette force donc elles n’ont pas besoin d’être très solide.

  10. Jackson Godwin says:

    I recently read the book Pushing Ice and they talk about a fictitious tool “gecko flex” which they use for space walking in vacuum and also as versatile tape. Now I’m imagining all you could do with two little pads of this and a rubber band.

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