Tag Archives: Ali Dhinojwala

Spider glue

Caption: An orb spider, glue-maker extraordinaire, at work on a web. Credit: The University of Akron

Scientists are taking inspiration from spiders in their quest to develop better adhesives. (Are they abandoning the gecko? Usually when scientists study adhesiveness, there’s talk of geckos. From a June 5, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

Ever wonder why paint peels off the wall during summer’s high humidity? It’s the same reason that bandages separate from skin when we bathe or swim.

Interfacial water, as it’s known, forms a slippery and non-adhesive layer between the glue and the surface to which it is meant to stick, interfering with the formation of adhesive bonds between the two.

Overcoming the effects of interfacial water is one of the challenges facing developers of commercial adhesives.

To find a solution, researchers at The University of Akron (UA) are looking to one of the strongest materials found in nature: spider silk.

The sticky glue that coats the silk threads of spider webs is a hydrogel, meaning it is full of water. One would think, then, that spiders would have difficulty catching prey, especially in humid conditions — but they do not. In fact, their sticky glue, which has been a subject of intensive research for years, is one of the most effective biological glues in all of nature.

A June 4, 2018 University of Akron news release (also on EurekAlert published on June 5, 2018), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

So how is spider glue able to stick in highly humid conditions?

That question was the subject of investigation by UA graduate students Saranshu Singla, Gaurav Amarpuri and Nishad Dhopatkar, who have been working with Dr. Ali Dhinojwala, interim dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, and Dr. Todd Blackledge, professor of biology in the Integrated Bioscience program. Both professors are principal investigators in UA’s Biomimicry Research Innovation Center [BRIC], which specializes in emulating biological forms, processes, patterns and systems to solve technical challenges.

The team’s findings, which may provide the clue to developing stronger commercial adhesives, can be read in a paper recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

Singla and her colleagues set out to examine the secret behind the success of the common orb spider (Larinioides cornutus) glue and uncover how it overcomes the primary obstacle of achieving good adhesion in the humid conditions where water could be present between the glue and the target surface.

To investigate the processes involved, the team took orb spider glue, set it on sapphire substrate, then examined it using a combination of interface-sensitive spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy.

Spider glue is made of three elements: two specialized glycoproteins, a collection of low molecular mass organic and inorganic compounds (LMMCs), and water. The LMMCs are hygroscopic (water-attracting), which keeps the glue soft and tacky to stick.

Singla and her team discovered that these glycoproteins act as primary binding agents to the surface. Glycoprotein-based glues have been identified in several other biological glues, such as fungi, algae, diatoms, sea stars, sticklebacks and English ivy.

But why doesn’t the water present in the spider glue interfere with the adhesive contact the way it does with most synthetic adhesives?

The LMMCs, the team concluded, perform a previously unknown function of sequestering interfacial water, preventing adhesive failure.

Singla and colleagues determined that it is the interaction of glycoproteins and LMMCs that governs the adhesive quality of the glue produced, with the respective proportions varying across species, thus optimizing adhesive strength to match the relative humidity of spider habitat.

“The hygroscopic compounds – known as water-absorbers – in spider glue play a previously unknown role in moving water away from the boundary, thereby preventing failure of spider glue at high humidity,” explained Singla.

The ability of the spider glue to overcome the problem of interfacial water by effectively absorbing it is the key finding of the research, and the one with perhaps the strongest prospect for commercial development.

“Imagine a paint that is guaranteed for life, come rain or shine,” Singla remarked.

All thanks to your friendly neighborhood spider glue.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Hygroscopic compounds in spider aggregate glue remove interfacial water to maintain adhesion in humid conditions by Saranshu Singla, Gaurav Amarpuri, Nishad Dhopatkar, Todd A. Blackledge, & Ali Dhinojwala. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 1890 (2018) Published 22 May 2018 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04263-z

This paper is open access.

Water turns ice-like at room temperature

The peculiar property of turning ice-like at room temperatures occurs with water at the nanscale according to an Aug. 29, 2016 news item on phys.org,

New research by scientists at The University of Akron (UA) [Ohio, US] shows that a nanometer-thin layer of water between two charged surfaces exhibits ice-like tendencies that allow it to withstand pressures of hundreds of atmospheres. The discovery could lead to better ways to minimize friction in a variety of settings.

An Aug. 29, 2016 University of Akron news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, elaborates on the theme,

Why water between two surfaces does not always simply squeeze out when placed under severe pressure had never been fully understood. The UA researchers discovered that naturally-occurring charges between two surfaces under intense pressure traps the water, and gives it ice-like qualities. It is this ice-like layer of water–occurring at room temperature–that then lessens the friction between the two surfaces.

“For the first time we have a basic understanding of what happens to water under these conditions and why it keeps two surfaces apart,” says Professor Ali Dhinojwala. “We had suspected something was happening at the molecular level, and now we have proof.”

“This discovery could lead to improved designs where low friction surfaces are critically important, such as in biomedical knee implants,” says UA graduate student Nishad Dhopatkar.

Graduate student Adrian Defante, who was also part of the research team, says “the newfound properties of water might contribute to the development of more effective antimicrobial coatings, as a thin layer of water could prevent bacterial adhesion.”

Dhinojwala adds that the research conversely offers insight into how water might be kept away from two surfaces, which could lead to better adhesives in watery environments.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Ice-like water supports hydration forces and eases sliding friction by Nishad Dhopatkar, Adrian P. Defante, and Ali Dhinojwala. Science Advances  26 Aug 2016: Vol. 2, no. 8, e1600763 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600763 Published 03 August 2016

This paper is open access.

Here’s an image the researchers are using to illustrate their work

Caption: Researchers at The University of Akron have discovered that a thin layer of water (blue molecules ) between two charged surfaces composed of surfactants (green molecules) --becomes ice-like, lessening the friction between the two surfaces. Credit: The University of Akron

Caption: Researchers at The University of Akron have discovered that a thin layer of water (blue molecules ) between two charged surfaces composed of surfactants (green molecules) –becomes ice-like, lessening the friction between the two surfaces. Credit: The University of Akron

Iridescent bird feathers inspire synthetic melanin for structural color/colour

I’m hoping one day they’ll be able to create textiles that rely on structure rather than pigment or dye for colour so my clothing will no longer fade with repeated washings and exposure to sunlight. There was one such textile, morphotex (named for the Blue Morpho butterfly, no longer produced by Japanese manufacturer Teijin but you can see a photo of the fabric which was fashioned into a dress by Australian designer Donna Sgro in my July 19, 2010 posting.

This particular project at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), sadly, is not textile-oriented, but has resulted in a film according to a May 13, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

Inspired by the way iridescent bird feathers play with light, scientists have created thin films of material in a wide range of pure colors — from red to green — with hues determined by physical structure rather than pigments.

Structural color arises from the interaction of light with materials that have patterns on a minute scale, which bend and reflect light to amplify some wavelengths and dampen others. Melanosomes, tiny packets of melanin found in the feathers, skin and fur of many animals, can produce structural color when packed into solid layers, as they are in the feathers of some birds.

“We synthesized and assembled nanoparticles of a synthetic version of melanin to mimic the natural structures found in bird feathers,” said Nathan Gianneschi, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego. “We want to understand how nature uses materials like this, then to develop function that goes beyond what is possible in nature.”

A May 13, 2015 UCSD news release by Susan Brown (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the inspiration and the work in more detail,

Gianneschi’s work focuses on nanoparticles that can sense and respond to the environment. He proposed the project after hearing Matthew Shawkey, a biology professor at the University of Akron, describe his work on the structural color in bird feathers at a conference. Gianneschi, Shawkey and colleagues at both universities report the fruits of the resulting collaboration in the journal ACS Nano, posted online May 12 [2015].

To mimic natural melanosomes, Yiwen Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Gianneschi’s lab, chemically linked a similar molecule, dopamine, into meshes. The linked, or polydopamine, balled up into spherical particles of near uniform size. Ming Xiao, a graduate student who works with Shawkey and polymer science professor Ali Dhinojwala at the University of Akron, dried different concentrations of the particles to form thin films of tightly packed polydopamine particles.

The films reflect pure colors of light; red, orange, yellow and green, with hue determined by the thickness of the polydopamine layer and how tightly the particles packed, which relates to their size, analysis by Shawkey’s group determined.

The colors are exceptionally uniform across the films, according to precise measurements by Dimitri Deheyn, a research scientist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies how a wide variety of organisms use light and color to communicate. “This spatial mapping of spectra also tells you about color changes associated with changes in the size or depth of the particles,” Deheyn said.

The qualities of the material contribute to its potential application. Pure hue is a valuable trait in colorimetric sensors. And unlike pigment-based paints or dyes, structural color won’t fade. Polydopamine, like melanin, absorbs UV light, so coatings made from polydopamine could protect materials as well. Dopamine is also a biological molecule used to transmit information in our brains, for example, and therefore biodegradable.

“What has kept me fascinated for 15 years is the idea that one can generate colors across the rainbow through slight (nanometer scale) changes in structure,” said Shawkey whose interests range from the physical mechanisms that produce colors to how the structures grow in living organisms. “This idea of biomimicry can help solve practical problems but also enables us to test the mechanistic and developmental hypotheses we’ve proposed,” he said.

Natural melanosomes found in bird feathers vary in size and particularly shape, forming rods and spheres that can be solid or hollow. The next step is to vary the shapes of nanoparticles of polydopamine to mimic that variety to experimentally test how size and shape influence the particle’s interactions with light, and therefore the color of the material. Ultimately, the team hopes to generate a palette of biocompatible, structural color.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bio-Inspired Structural Colors Produced via Self-Assembly of Synthetic Melanin Nanoparticles by Ming Xiao, Yiwen Li, Michael C. Allen, Dimitri D. Deheyn, Xiujun Yue, Jiuzhou Zhao, Nathan C. Gianneschi, Matthew D. Shawkey, and Ali Dhinojwala. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b01298 Publication Date (Web): May 4, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone who’d like to explore structural colour further, there’s this Feb. 7, 2013 posting which features excerpts from and a link to an excellent article by Cristina Luiggi for The Scientist.

Staying stuck when it’s wet; learning from the geckos

Researchers from the University of Akron have published another study on geckos and their ‘stickability’ in watery environments. Last mentioned here in my Aug. 10, 2012 posting, doctoral candidate Alyssa Stark  and her colleagues were then testing the geckos by placing them on wetted glass plate surfaces and also by immersing them on water-filled tubs with glass bottom,

Next, the trio sprayed the glass plate with a mist of water and retested the lizards, but this time the animals had problems holding tight: the attachment force varied each time they took a step. The droplets were interfering with the lizards’ attachment mechanism, but it wasn’t clear how. And when the team immersed the geckos in a bath of room temperature water with a smooth glass bottom, the animals were completely unable to anchor themselves to the smooth surface. ‘The toes are superhydrophobic [water repellent]’, explains Stark, who could see a silvery bubble of air around their toes, but they were unable to displace the water surrounding their feet to make the tight van der Waals contacts that usually keep the geckos in place.

Then, the team tested the lizard’s adhesive forces on the dry surface when their feet had been soaking for 90 min and found that the lizards could barely hold on, detaching when they were pulled with a force roughly equalling their own weight. ‘That might be the sliding behaviour that we see when the geckos climb vertically up misted glass’, says Stark. So, geckos climbing on wet surfaces with damp feet are constantly on the verge of slipping and Stark adds that when the soggy lizards were faced with the misted and immersed horizontal surfaces, they slipped as soon as the rig started pulling.

In this latest research, from the Ap. 1, 2013 news release issued by the University of Akron on EurekAlert, Stark and her colleagues announce they’ve discovered the conditions under which geckos can adhere to wet surfaces,

Principal investigator Stark and her fellow UA researchers Ila Badge, Nicholas Wucinich, Timothy Sullivan, Peter Niewiarowski and Ali Dhinojwala study the adhesive qualities of gecko pads, which have tiny, clingy hairs that stick like Velcro to dry surfaces. In a 2012 study, the team discovered that geckos lose their grip on wet glass. This finding led the scientists to explore how the lizards function in their natural environments.

The scientists studied the clinging power of six geckos, which they outfitted with harnesses and tugged upon gently as the lizards clung to surfaces in wet and dry conditions. The researchers found that the effect of water on adhesive strength correlates with wettability, or the ability of a liquid to maintain contact with a solid surface. On glass, which has high wettability, a film of water forms between the surface and the gecko’s foot, decreasing adhesion. Conversely, on surfaces with low wettability, such as waxy leaves on tropical plants, the areas in contact with the gecko’s toes remain dry and adhesion, firm. [emphasis mine]

“The geckos stuck just as well under water as they did on a dry surface, as long as the surface was hydrophobic,” Stark explains. “We believe this is how geckos stick to wet leaves and tree trunks in their natural environment.”

For interested parties, this is where the paper can be found,

The discovery, “Surface Wettability Plays a Significant Role in Gecko Adhesion Underwater,” was published April 1, 2013 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study has implications for the design of a synthetic gecko-inspired adhesive.

Here’s an image of a gecko (from the University of Akron’s webpage with their Ap. 1, 2013 news release),

Courtesy University of Akron [downloaded from http://www.uakron.edu/im/online-newsroom/news_details.dot?newsId=ec9fd559-e4af-487f-a9cc-2ea5f5c9612d&pageTitle=Top%20Story%20Headline&crumbTitle=Geckos%20keep%20firm%20grip%20in%20wet%20natural%20habitat]

Courtesy University of Akron [downloaded from http://www.uakron.edu/im/online-newsroom/news_details.dot?newsId=ec9fd559-e4af-487f-a9cc-2ea5f5c9612d&pageTitle=Top%20Story%20Headline&crumbTitle=Geckos%20keep%20firm%20grip%20in%20wet%20natural%20habitat]

Not mentioned in this news release, one of the relevant applications for this work would be getting bandages and dressings  to adhere to wet surfaces.