We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kenrick Vezina

A View from Kenrick Vezina

A Strapless Bra That’s as Sticky as Gecko Feet

A mechanical engineer has decided to stand up for bras that stay up using space-age materials science.

  • November 13, 2015

What do 19th century Dutch physicist Johannes Diderik van der Waals and women’s undergarments have in common? If you answered “gecko feet,” congratulations. You’re as big a nerd as mechanical engineer Anthony Roy.

The story, as brought to us by Gizmodo’s science editor Jennifer Oulette, is that Roy heard his wife’s cry for a strapless bra that actually stays up and decided to take matters into his own hands. (I’ve always wondered why major engineering schools like Roy’s Caltech or MIT don’t seem to have anyone dedicated to solving the problems of poor bra design. Perhaps it’s reflective of the gender imbalance in STEM?)

This is where the geckos come in. They’re a family of lizards notable because some members have the ability to cling superheroically to almost any surface. At the microscopic level, the pads on their toes are bristling with tiny hairlike structures. This matters because of the intermolecular force proposed by (and subsequently named after) Frans van der Waals. Oulette explains:

In 2000, University of California, Berkeley, physicist Robert Full realized that this strong adhesion came about because of Van der Waals forces between molecules. These forces are usually not significant, but become [significant] at very small micro- and nano-scales.

By maximizing the surface area of the gecko’s feet, these microscopic structures also maximize the number of molecules able to attract one another with these weak van der Waals forces. Weak individually, these forces become powerful in aggregate; powerful enough to hold up several ounces of insectivorous lizard or satiny fabric.

Ever since the secret to geckos’ stickiness was described, engineers have been trying to re-create it for human use. “In particular,” Oulette writes, “Roy recalled a robotic design by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed around the gecko’s foot. Thus his own GeckTech was born: a small patch that sticks to the skin via that same physical mechanism.”

Even better, the clinging effect is as harmless and painless to human skin as static cling is to socks (and no shock, to boot).

Roy made the first prototypes a few years ago by supergluing some of his “GeckTeck” material into his wife’s strapless bras. (“I knew I had truly struck gold,” Roy writes on the Kellie K site, “when one night we were going out and instead of using one of her store-bought bras, she grabbed the prototype. At that moment I realized I truly had a great idea for a business.”)

As of last night, Roy’s company had just eked out a successful Phase 2 Kickstarter. Backers can expect their bras in April 2016.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.