Researchers at the University of Tennessee have turned to the world’s largest pool of research and development and found a powerful “new” adhesive. The R&D was done via millions of years of evolutionary meandering and perfected in the humble ivy plant. Using nature’s example to design something sticky isn’t new, the nanoscopic hairs, called setae, on the feet of a gecko have already led to interesting industrial possibilities. Now, the secretions of tiny ivy rootlets, noted by Charles Darwin himself, have come under scrutiny. The secretions contain 19 different compounds that combine in tiny globules barely 70 nanometers across. The majority of these compounds are “polar molecules”; desperate to satisfy their electrical imbalance by making hydrogen bonds with anything they come in contact with. The accumulation of all these hydrogen bonds makes for a super sticky substance. The analysis of these ivy secretions helps researchers understand how nanoparticles work and will lead to more advanced manipulation of the nanoworld. On an immediately practical front, the researchers have an idea for making paint which would resist the damaging effects of ivy. Studying nature’s solutions is an increasing focus in material science.

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