In Situ Observation Reveals Local Detachment Mechanisms and Suction Effects in Micropatterned Adhesives

Abstract Fibrillar adhesion pads of insects and geckoes have inspired the design of high-performance adhesives enabling a new generation of handling devices. Despite much progress over the last decade, the current understanding of these adhesives is limited to single contact pillars and the behavior of whole arrays is largely unexplored. In the study reported here, a novel approach is taken to gain insight into the detachment mechanisms of whole micropatterned arrays. Individual contacts are imaged by frustrated total internal reflection, allowing in situ observation of contact formation and separation during adhesion tests. The detachment of arrays is found to be governed by the distributed adhesion strength of individual pillars, but no collaborative effect mediated by elastic interactions can be detected. At the maximal force, about 30% of the mushroom structures are already detached. The adhesive forces decrease with reduced air pressure by 20% for the smooth and by 6% for the rough specimen. These contributions are attributed to a suction effect, whose strength depends critically on interfacial defects controlling the sealing quality of the contact. This dominates the detachment process and the resulting adhesion strength.