Research on the adhesive systems of geckos, ants, and sea urchins has principally focused the physical mechanism of adhesion. However, this work has left gaps in our understanding of the chemical, material, and morphological characteristics of these systems. An integral part of our research is focused on filling these gaps in our understanding of the adhesive mechanism.

Currently most performance measurements of biological adhesive systems focus on testing the adhesive apparatus in controlled laboratory conditions. This approach often neglects whole animal performance, and relevant abiotic and biotic factors and interactions. Furthermore, very little work has explored what these performance measurements mean for the behavior and ecology of these organisms. To address complex interactions which arise from variation in adhesive performance and behavior, we test static and dynamic adhesion and behavior of live geckos, ants, and sea urchins in a variety of ecologically relevant conditions in the laboratory and the field.

Some of the big questions about biological adhesion that the Stark Lab focuses on include:

  • In what conditions do biological adhesives systems fail and why?
  • How versatile are biological adhesive systems?
  • Are biological adhesive systems plastic?

Finally, our interdisciplinary focus allows us to apply the insights we glean from the mechanistic, performance, and behavioral attributes of the natural system to synthetic systems. We are interested in the application of bio-inspired design and biomimicry to real-world problems. We also find that these provide important opportunities for large scale collaboration (e.g., STEAM), education, and service.