A reversible snail slime-like substance has been found to be 89 times stronger than gecko adhesion and proved to be strong enough to hold the weight of an entire human body.
The material is rubbery when wet but rigid when dry, which makes it useful for adhesives and even contact lenses.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania created the hydrogel substance made of polymer, which has the same features as a snail’s epiphragm, which is initially wet but hardens after conforming to the surface.
They said the material is like a “superglue”, which you cannot pull off, but can re-wet so it can become rubbery again.
One of the university’s researchers volunteered to suspend himself from a harness held up by a postage-sized patch of the adhesive and demonstrated that the substance was able to hold the weight of the man.
Shu Yang, the professor leading the study, said the snail-slime adhesive could be useful not only in the scientific field, but also for the household products industry and robotics systems.
However, she admitted the material might not be appropriate for use in heavy manufacturing, as its reversibility is controlled by water.
“With a lot of things, you don’t want to use water. Water takes time to diffuse. In the future, we want to find the right material that can switch the property like that,” said Professor Yang.
The researchers hope they will soon find materials which will also respond to light, heat and electricity.