Skip navigation
'Gecko Claws' Reach New Heights at UCOP


Narrator:        A Discovery Channel film crew set up at the University of California, Office of the President to shoot crucial scenes for their all-new series, Prototype This!, a program that gives viewers a firsthand account of the invention process - from the drawing board through the design and finally, proof-of-concept. This episode focused on Gecko Claws, a human scale climbing technology that mimics the gecko lizard's amazing ability to scurry up walls. The goal of the shoot, to see if a local climber could scale the UC administrative building's five-story cinderblock wall.

Dr. Mike North/Host, Prototype This:  I love this project. It's in the true spirit of modern day science that's really creativity and collaboration. Right now, we started at UC Berkeley, then we went over to Stanford, talked to UC Santa Barbara and now we're here at the UC administration building, about to climb the wall. It's kind of cool, it's all really coming together today and...I just hope it works!

Narrator:        Show co-host, Dr. Mike North, a University of California, Santa Barbara alumnus is lead engineer of Gecko Claws, and worked closely with UC Berkeley integrative biologist, Dr. Robert Full, who discovered that gecko claws help the lizard climb up rough surfaces, but millions of microscopic toe hairs make it possible for them to climb up smooth ones. For years, scientists have been interested in using this technology for robots in search/rescue applications and exploration, including Mars.

North:             But in this case, for Prototype This!, we wanted to make something a person can actually use, so we had to go to a much more practical regime of gecko adhesives.

Narrator:        Each Gecko Claw consists of 1500 steel fish hooks embedded into hard and soft polyurethane. Climber Lyn Verinsky demonstrates how she'll used Gecko Claws.

Verinksy O/C:            I think the idea is I'm gonna put it up, place it, weight it and then bring the other one up above it and weight that and then bring my feet up a bit, bring it up again, etcetera, etcetera. I'm a little nervous - I'm not so much frightened for my safety as I am just nervous that the invention will work. I really feel invested at this point and I keep my fingers crossed it's going to be a success. I have no idea if it will work - I just have to believe or hope that it's going to, try my best and see what happens.

(Crowd: YEAH!)

Verinsky V/O:    So, the new technology, they make a very odd noise as they're engaging and all I think is, "oh, it sounds like it's slipping!" So, it's a little disconcerting.

Narrator:        There were just a few slips along the way, but Verinksy kept going.

Verinksy V/O:                        I would love to try to make it all the way up. As a climber, it's always about reaching the top, so if I can reach the top, I'll be pretty happy.

(Crowd: "Everybody clap for her!" Applause)

Narrator:        With the success of the invention, North says the next step is looking at the overall design and figuring out how to better integrate it with the climber and to someday have a hybrid system that incorporates both smooth and rough surfaces. But for now, they're just happy to revel in success.

(North in crowd: Alright everybody, Gecko Woman! Applause)

Narrator:        And what does Verinksy think of her new moniker?

Verinksy:        I don't know about Gecko Girl, I mean....I've been called worse. So, Gecko Girl is not so bad.

Narrator:        For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.      


Special thanks to Keller Autumn/Lewis & Clark College for permission to use image of gecko foot.