Many organisms have evolved a fibrillated interface for contact and adhesion as shown by several of the papers in this issue. For example, in the Gecko, this structure appears to give them the ability to adhere and separate from a variety of surfaces by relying only on weak van der Waals forces. Despite the low intrinsic energy of separating surfaces held together by van der Waals forces, these organisms are able to achieve remarkably strong adhesion. To help understand adhesion in such a case, we consider a simple model of a fibrillar interface. For it, we examine the mechanics of contact and adhesion to a substrate. It appears that this structure allows the organism, at the same time, to achieve good, ‘universal’ contact and adhesion. Due to buckling, a carpet of fibrils behaves like a plastic solid under compressive loading, allowing intimate contact in the presence of some roughness. As an adhesive, we conjecture that energy in the fibrils is lost upon decohesion and unloading. This mechanism can add considerably to the intrinsic work of fracture, resulting in good adhesion even with only van der Waals forces. Analysis of the mechanics of adhesion through such a fibrillar interface provides rules for the design of the microstructure for desired performance as an adhesive.
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Vol. 42 • No. 6