You, too could be like Kafka's fly

A gizmo made by scientists at Cornell could let you crawl up and down walls, just like a fly.

The palm sized device uses water surface tension as an adhesive bond that could be applied to gloves and shoes, according to Paul Steen and Michael Vogel, academics at Cornell’s department of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

The boffins based their invention on a Florida beetle which manages to stick to a leaf with a force 100 times its own weight. And, perhaps more importantly, unstick itself too.

The gizmo is made of a flat plate with holes, each hole being micron sized. A bottom plate holds a liquid reservoir, and in the middle there’s another porous layer. A nine volt battery pumps water through the device causing the droplets to squeeze through the top layer and lets the device grip another surface.

You unstick yourself by reversing the electric field – the principle is based on previous research on electro-osmotic pumping.

What happens if you’re 28 feet high and the battery runs out, the good professor Steen doesn’t say. The research was funded mostly by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – so the military is definitely interested.

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.