Switchable Underwater Adhesion through Dynamic Chemistry and Geometry

Project Personnel

Michael Bartlett

Principal Investigator

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Bruce Lee

Michigan Technological University


Rong Long

University of Colorado at Boulder


Grace Gu

University of California, Berkeley


Funding Divisions

Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI)

Strong adherence to underwater or wet surfaces for applications like tissue adhesion and underwater robotics is a significant challenge. This is especially apparent when switchable adhesion is required which demands rapid attachment, high adhesive capacity, and easy release. While organisms like the octopus and mussel excel at underwater adhesion, synthetic adhesives lag far behind, which is due to a fundamental knowledge gap in how chemical, geometric, and material properties interact to control underwater switchable adhesion. 

This Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) award aims to incorporate mussel-inspired adhesive chemistry with octopus-inspired adhesive structures to rapidly switch adhesion in dry and wet conditions. This will accelerate and build the fundamental knowledge of how chemical, geometric, and material properties control switchable adhesion to transform the design of rapidly switchable adhesives for stiff and soft substrates in wet and dry environments. This new knowledge will advance future economic and societal innovations in critical applications from transient tissue adhesives for prosthetic and wearable sensors to robot-assisted surgery, robotic gripping, and pick-and-place manufacturing. In addition to training and mentoring strong graduate students, the research team will develop bio-inspired adhesive gripping activities to inspire K-12 students to pursue science and engineering careers. This will be complemented by engaging future workforce leaders in adhesion science and engineering through career development panels at national adhesion conferences.


Bioinspired materials for underwater adhesion with pathways to switchability
C. Lee, H. Shi, J. Jung, B. Zheng, K. Wang, R. Tutika, R. Long, B. P. Lee, G. X. Gu, and M. D. Bartlett
Peel tests for quantifying adhesion and toughness: A review
M. D. Bartlett, S. W. Case, A. J. Kinloch, and D. A. Dillard
Metamaterial adhesives for programmable adhesion through reverse crack propagation
D. Hwang, C. Lee, X. Yang, J. M. Pérez-González, J. Finnegan, B. Lee, E. J. Markvicka, R. Long, and M. D. Bartlett
Machine learning enabled optimization of showerhead design for semiconductor deposition process
Z. Jin, D. D. Lim, X. Zhao, M. Mamunuru, S. Roham, and G. X. Gu
Investigation of mechanical properties and structural integrity of graphene aerogels via molecular dynamics simulations
B. Zheng, C. Liu, Z. Li, C. Carraro, R. Maboudian, D. G. Senesky, and G. X. Gu
Peeling of finite-length elastica on Winkler foundation until complete detachment
R. H. Plaut, D. Hwang, C. Lee, M. D. Bartlett, and D. A. Dillard
Octopus-inspired adhesive skins for intelligent and rapidly switchable underwater adhesion
S. T. Frey, A. B. M. T. Haque, R. Tutika, E. V. Krotz, C. Lee, C. B. Haverkamp, E. J. Markvicka, and M. D. Bartlett

View All Publications

Research Highlights

Bioinspired Materials for Underwater Adhesion with Pathways to Switchability
M. Bartlett (Virginia Tech.), B. Lee (MI Tech.) R. Long (U. CO-Boulder), G. Gu (U. CA-Berkeley)

Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF)