Sandwich in a pumpkin: Supramolecular velcro for underwater adhesion

February 21, 2013

(—When gluing things together, both surfaces usually need to be dry. Gluing wet surfaces or surfaces under water is a challenge. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Korean scientists have now introduced a completely new concept. They were able to achieve reversible underwater adhesion by using supramolecular “velcro”.

Previously, researchers have primarily attempted to mimic natural underwater “adhesives” like the adhesive molecules used by mussels. Such substances adhere well in wet surroundings, but the adhesion is not reversible. A team led by Kimoon Kim at Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea has chosen a different approach: they have moved away from natural models—and achieved reversible underwater adhesion.

The primary challenge for conventional adhesion under water is that the water molecules between the surfaces to be glued and the adhesive need to be removed so that these surfaces can react chemically. This is not the case with the new approach. Kim and his co-workers use host–guest interactions between water-soluble host molecule with a hydrophobic pocket and ionic guest molecule with a hydrophobic block. They form robust noncovalent bonds in water. In fact, the repulsion of water molecules is the driving force for formation of the bond, mediated by ion–dipole and hydrophobic interactions.

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