Geckos are, objectively, way better at climbing stuff than people. Our big sweaty meathooks are no match for the wall-scaling, optimised toe pads of a small lizard. That's why a team at California's Stanford University is busy making gloves that simulate the sticky grip of the gecko.
The Stanford team's secret ingredient for truly adhesive gecko-inspired hand pads is a type of silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane, which they layer as microscopic wedges. These wedges use something called van der Waals force to keep the wearer upright, which is exactly how geckos manage to crawl across ceilings without falling to a splatter.
Right now, the synthetic pads only work on smooth surfaces like plastic and glass, so would-be Spider-Men still can't outperform the gecko if they try to climb something rougher.
DARPA is working on a similar make-people-climb-like-geckos project, with special gecko-inspired paddles that also let people sidle up walls like a lizard. The Stanford team collaborated with DARPA here, too, but published more details about their results.
The researchers believe this material could be useful in helping astronauts grab space debris, so really, what we're talking about here is just trying to avoid any of the plot points in Gravity becoming a horrible reality.
NEVER AGAIN GEORGE!
Image: Papa Bravo