Inspired by the way God designed bird feathers, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, are designing a new adhesive that could hold tighter than Velcro.
The researchers, whose study appears in the Jan. 16 issue of Science Advances, printed 3D models that mimic the design of bird feathers. The filaments of feathers have barbs and vanes that zip and unzip when disturbed, always pulling them back into their original position. The design could inspire the development of interlocking, one-directional adhesives like Velcro, Tarah Sullivan, the lead researcher, said in a statement.
The research team also looked into how the underside of the feather captures air and gives the bird lift for flight while the top of the feather blocks air out so the bird can use gravity to lower itself.
The researchers discovered that the barbules, small hook-type structures that connect the feather barbs, are consistently spaced within 8 to 16 micrometers of each other. (A micrometer equals 0.000039 of an inch.) The spacing remains the same for tiny hummingbirds with wingspans of about 4 inches and gigantic condors with up to a 9-foot wingspan. “The first time I saw feather barbules under the microscope I was in awe of their design: intricate, beautiful and functional,” Sullivan said. —J.B.