Bioinspired Underwater Adhesion to Rough Substrates by Cavity Collapse of Cupped Microstructures

Abstract Underwater or wet adhesion is highly desirable for numerous applications but is counteracted by the liquids in the contact which weaken intermolecular attraction. The problem is exacerbated in conjunction with surface roughness when liquids partially remain in grooves or dimples of the substrate. In the present study, a cupped microstructure with a cavity inspired by suction organs of aquatic animals is proposed. The microstructures (cup radius of 100 µm) are made from polyurethane using two-photon lithography followed by replica molding. Adhesion to rough substrates is emulated experimentally by a micropatterned model substrate with varying channel widths. Pull-off stresses are found to be about 200 kPa, i.e., twice atmospheric pressure. Evaluation of force–displacement curves together with in situ observations reveal the adhesion mechanism, which involves adaptation to surface roughness and an elastic force induced by the collapse of the cavity that holds sealed contact with the substrate during retraction. This new microarchitecture may pave the way for next generation microstructures applicable to real, rough surfaces under wet conditions.