Publicity information for:

C. Majidi, R.E. Groff, Y. Maeno, B. Schubert, S. Baek, B. Bush, R. Maboudian, N. Gravish, M. Wilkinson, K. Autumn, and R.S. Fearing. 

High Friction from a Stiff Polymer using Micro-Fiber Arrays, Physical Review Letters, 18 August 2006. vol. 97, no. 076103

Using design principles inspired by the nanoscopic hairs on the gecko, UC Berkeley researchers and colleagues have created a novel microfiber array which has very high friction but is not ``sticky''. Usual high friction materials, such as soft rubbers or polymers, are tacky, and would be uncomfortable on shoe soles (think gum stuck to the bottom of one's shoe). The high friction micro fiber array works by having tens of millions of contacts per square centimeter which approximate the intimate contact soft rubber has with a surface. The microfibers are made from a rigid plastic which is 100 to 1000 times harder than rubber, and can resist high temperatures without softening. The microfiber array has friction which is 10 to 30 times greater than the friction of the starting plastic. This novel material could potentially replace soft rubber on surfaces which need high friction like shoes, tires, or sport gloves.

Point of Contact
Prof. Ronald S. Fearing, UC Berkeley; 510-642-9193; ronf @ eecs . berkeley . edu

Supported by National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Quarter held in place on glass slide by friction force from gecko-inspired fiber array alone. No adhesive is used to keep quarter from sliding.
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Scanning electron microscope picture of synthetic fibers which are 20 micrometers tall and 600 nanometers in diameter. (Microfibers are about 100 times smaller than a human hair.) There are approximately 40 million fibers per square centimeter (250 million fibers per square inch).
Scanning electron microscope picture of setae from Anolis lizard. (Picture copyright Kellar Autumn). Anolis seta are approximately the same size as the synthetic fiber array.

Conceptual drawing showing how microfibers engage with a surface. A compressive load brings more hairs into contact, increasing true contact area. Friction increases with true area of contact.

High Friction

Friction is the force that resists sliding between two surfaces.  High friction materials can prevent sliding under high loads or steep inclines.  Such materials are typically soft and can achieve intimate contact with an opposing surface.  A typical high friction material is rubber, which is used in a variety of applications such as shoes and tires. 

The adhesive system of gecko lizards also demonstrates high friction.  Unlike other high friction materials, the gecko's adhesive is composed of rigid, durable material.  Intimate contact with an opposing surface is achieved through the bending of millions of compliant micro-sized hairs called setae.  

Gecko-inspired High Friction

A synthetic microstructure similar to the gecko adhesive was made by casting plastic into a porous mold.  This procedure yields an array of vertically aligned polymer fibers that are each less than a micron in diameter and 20 microns high (about one fifth the thickness of a sheet of paper). 

As with the gecko hairs, the polymer fibers are composed of rigid material but exhibit compliance by bending and buckling when loaded.  This compliance enables intimate contact when pressed into an opposing surface, allowing for the formation of millions of atomic level bonds.  Though individually weak, these bonds combine to produce a significant resistance to sliding. 

Comparing measurements between the micro fiber array and controls composed of smooth (unstructured) polymer demonstrate that the gecko-inspired structures resist over  30 times more force prior to sliding.  What is remarkable is that this 30 times increase in the coefficient of friction is obtained with an intrinsically rigid material that has much more durable properties than high friction materials that are soft, such as rubber or sticky tape.  


Inspired by the gecko's natural adhesive system, we have fabricated a microstructure that exhibits high friction approaching that of rubber.  Unlike rubber and other naturally high friction surfaces, this microstructure consists of a rigid material.  In principle, high friction can be achieved in this way for a wide range of materials, including those that can sustain extreme environmental and loading conditions such as high temperature and repeated use.


Carmel Majidi, Richard E. Groff, Bryan Schubert, Stanley Baek, and Ronald S. Fearing

Biomimetic Milli Systems Laboratory
Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
University of California at Berkeley

Yohei Maeno

Adhesive Tape Research Department
Nitto Denko Corporation
Umeda, Osaka, Japan

Brian Bush and Roya Maboudian

Department of Chemical Engineering
University of California at Berkeley

Nick Gravish, Matt Wilkinson, 
and Kellar Autumn

Department of Biology
Lewis & Clark College
Portland, Oregon