Studying Stickiness : Methods, Trade-Offs, and Perspectives in Measuring Reversible Biological Adhesion and Friction

Boogaart, Luc M. van den; Langowski, Julian K.A.; Amador, Guillermo J.


Controlled, reversible attachment is widely spread throughout the animal kingdom: from ticks to tree frogs, whose weights span from 2 mg to 200 g, and from geckos to mosquitoes, who stick under vastly different situations, such as quickly climbing trees and stealthily landing on human hosts. A fascinating and complex interplay of adhesive and frictional forces forms the foundation of attachment of these highly diverse systems to various substrates. In this review, we present an overview of the techniques used to quantify the adhesion and friction of terrestrial animals, with the aim of informing future studies on the fundamentals of bioadhesion, and motivating the development and adoption of new or alternative measurement techniques. We classify existing methods with respect to the forces they measure, including magnitude and source, i.e., generated by the whole body, single limbs, or by sub-structures. Additionally, we compare their versatility, specifically what parameters can be measured, controlled, and varied. This approach reveals critical trade-offs of bioadhesion measurement techniques. Beyond stimulating future studies on evolutionary and physicochemical aspects of bioadhesion, understanding the fundamentals of biological attachment is key to the development of biomimetic technologies, from soft robotic grippers to gentle surgical tools.