Friday, April 27, 2007

Spiderman suit

An Italian researcher is working on a project that could lead to the development of a real-life 'spider-man' suit.

Nicola Pugno, a 35-year-old researcher at the Polytechnic University of Turin, says he has spent the past 10 years working on a form of adhesion based on the feet of gecko lizards.

"It's a field that can have very interesting applications in science, like in space, for example," Mr Pugno said. "An astronaut could use a suit with a suction-cup adhesion system."

He estimates the suit could be constructed in another 10 years. The gecko's feet are covered with tiny hairs called setae that allow for strong adhesion to different types of surfaces. Mr Pugno is seeking to mimic the effect of the setae, though several problems remain to be worked through.

His suit, he said, is to include extremely fine, sticky filament.

"One of the problems that has arisen is the control of the adhesion, because remaining attached to a wall is not difficult," he said. "All you have to do is attach it with superglue. But then how do you detach it and re-attach it again?"

A self-cleaning mechanism also has to be developed for the system, he said. "A gecko that walks in the sand has to clean his feet after a few steps," he said.

Despite his work's obvious spider-man similarities, Mr Pugno said he has no particular interest in the hit movies and that science is what fascinates him. Science fiction, he said, "leads to nothing".

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