A gecko seems to have superglue on its feet: it can detach its feet and attach them again, over and over without the glue losing its strength. Likewise, mussels also have special glue: it can stick under water. This fascinates Marleen Kamperman. As professor of Polymer Science she attempts to reproduce such special glue.
Kamperman is currently working at the Wageningen University (WUR), but will continue her research as professor at the Zernike Institute in Groningen, starting in September. The substances animals use as glue are polymers, a kind of plastic. “In Groningen I can work together with other polymer chemists. They have experience with bio-based materials: polymers synthesized from plant materials instead of petroleum.”
Imitating the super glue of geckos, mussels, and other animals is not only fun but also useful. “Glue that also works on a wet surface is interesting for the medical world. After all, the human body is also wet. This kind of glue would make it much easier to attach materials inside the body.” Kamperman is eager to look for opportunities to collaborate with UMC Groningen. “It would be wonderful if our research of these materials eventually leads to practical applications.”
Glue on robot hands
The glue from a gecko could be of interest for robotics, another active field of research in Groningen. “Robots can do many things, but they have difficulty handling fragile objects. If your grip on a tomato is too weak, it drops, but if you squeeze too hard, it gets damaged. If the robot had the abilities of a gecko, it could glue a tomato to its hands and simply release it when necessary.”
Kamperman was trained as a chemist, but is excited about this research because it combines multiple fields of study. “I learn much from biologists. In our lab we do not actually work with animals, but we utilize the knowledge from biologists to understand how that glue works.” Physics also plays an important role for understanding how substances stick and let go. “I find that combination attractive, especially together with the wide range of possible practical applications.”
Marleen Kamperman (1979) received her PhD in 2008 from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She then worked for two years as post-doc researcher at the Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Saarland (Germany). Since 2010 she works at the Wageningen University, first as Assistant Professor, and since 2016 as Associate Professor. In September 2018 she will take up her new position as professor of Polymer Science at the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials at the University of Groningen.
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