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Discovery Magazine 5/1/2004

God’s Gecko Glue

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Have you ever seen a gecko? This lizard-like animal has the ability to climb anywhere it wants. Scientists describe it as “one of the reptile world’s greatest climbers.” How does the gecko do it?

Everything a gecko needs for climbing can be found on its four feet. First, its toes move in almost every direction, and allow the gecko the support it needs to climb up a wall. The feet and toes are divided into overlapping layers called lamellas (luh-MEL-luhs). On each lamella, there are many tiny, hair-like structures called setae (SEE-tee). A gecko’s foot has 500,000 setae!

But this is only the beginning. Scientists have discovered the secret of the gecko’s foot. Attached to the end of every seta are hundreds of microscopic structures shaped like the cooking utensil we call a spatula. Because of their looks, these tiny structures have been named spatulas. Without these “cool” structures, the gecko could not do what it does.

But what is it, exactly, that allows the gecko to climb and cling so well? Researchers have learned that the secret to the gecko’s “sticking ability” lies in something known in science as van der Waals forces. What are van der Waals forces? A Dutch scholar, Johannes Diderik van der Waals, learned that some kinds of materials attract well to other forms of matter. This attraction is not very important at long distances, but at short distances, van der Waals forces become very important.

When a gecko is walking on a surface, it “sticks” to that surface by using the tiny spatulas, and the van der Waals forces, to produce a tiny-but-powerful force of attraction that allows it to cling to most any surface, even using just a single toe. The structure, enormous quantity, and design of the spatulas and setae on a gecko’s foot allow it to produce enough force to go wherever it wants!

Scientists have tried to make materials that can be coated with man made gecko-like hairs, and that then could copy the way the gecko uses van der Waals forces to make things “stick” to one another. And some scientists have been overheard to say that “geckos have evolved one of the most versatile and effective adhesives known.” But design demands a designer. The gecko did not “evolve” its cool design. Rather, God created the gecko like it is.

Some people have traded their faith in God, and the spiritual blessings given by Him, for the errors of evolution. Wouldn’t it be better to be humble, and listen to the Bible when it states: “Let them praise the name of Jehovah, for he commanded, and they were created” (Psalm 148:5)?



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