Chelsea Zoltowski '18
Looking to nature to solve today’s problems
Scientists are looking to nature’s innovations to solve today’s problems. The approach is called biomimicry, and the process has been used to develop everything from Velcro to airplane wings.
During the summer of 2016, Chelsea Zoltowski, a chemistry major from Toledo, was part of a team using biomimicry in their study of geckos. The colorful lizards are known to scurry across walls and ceilings in warm climates, and Zoltowski’s research focused on the gecko’s ability to stick.
“Some real-world applications for gecko stickiness include creating synthetic dry adhesives used in things such as tapes and bandages that can outlast and work as well as the geckos do when adhering to materials,” said Zoltowski.
Geckos are able to stick to surfaces because the millions of hairs present on their toes form an intimate contact with different surfaces which allow the little lizards to stick without using any glue.
At the urging of Dr. Charles Daws, professor of chemistry, Zoltowski applied for and was accepted into the University of Akron’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The REU program in the department of Polymer Science brought students from smaller schools together to give them research experience. Zoltowski and others on her team examined interfaces, where two materials come in contact with each other.
For her research, Zoltowski mounted gecko hair onto a glass slide to measure the hair’s ability to adhere in various levels of humidity. Geckos routinely shed their skin, and the skin was collected once a month. The experience taught her that, in science, failure is just as important as success.
“At some points, the process had become extremely frustrating because everything didn’t always work out as we had hoped,” said Zoltowski. “But by looking at these problems from different angles, we still get information from failed experiments. Because of this, science is extremely rewarding.”