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Geckos of the Sea

Photo of nanofibrils
This scanning electron microscope image of a cross section of abalone foot highlights nanofibers similar to those found on gecko feet.

Abalone are the "geckos of the sea." While you won't see an abalone running up a wall, they do have something to brag about - incredible strength. It is almost impossible to pull an abalone off an underwater rock or tank wall once it is frightened - a fact that frustrates hungry otters but fascinates Albert Yu-Min Lin, (MAE B.S. '04 , Materials Science M.S. '06, Ph.D. '08). Part of his dissertation included the discovery that the top surface of the red abalone foot looks strikingly similar to the made-forwall- climbing surface of a gecko foot. Both are covered in nanofibers. Geckos rely on these fibers, just a couple hundred billionths of a meter in diameter, to run up walls. In a paper published in ACTA Materialia, Lin and collaborators reported that abalone use a similar strategy to lock down on surfaces. Molecular bonds between the nanofibers and the surface create "van der Waals" forces that, together with suction generated by capillary forces, make it difficult to remove the abalone. Mimicking the abalone foot could lead to new biomedical applications, including better water-resistant surgical tape, according to Lin and his collaborators from professor Marc Meyers' biomemetics lab, from NanoEngineering and from the UCSD Center for Magnetic Recording Research (CMRR). Lin has graduated from the Jacobs School, but UCSD is still home. He is a CISA3/ Calit2 research scientist, leading a non-destructive archaeological search for the tomb of Genghis Khan. This project recently won Lin the 2009 National Geographic Adventure People's Choice Adventurer of the Year. (See back cover for information on Lin's public lecture.)

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