Gloves and Geckos: How Football Gloves Echo the Gecko (Basic)

In sports, one of the most important forces is friction.  In football, players have started to use gloves as a means to help control the ball better, particularly with making catches.  Companies such as Nike, Cutter, Reebok, and Adidas all market gloves that have higher and higher levels of ‘tack’, a term used for how well the gloves can grip things.  In order to develop better gloves, an understanding of how things actually adhere (stick) to each other is required.  This is a concept that scientists have been studying for a long time, making better and better glues.  Now, scientists and companies are focused on making better ‘dry adhesives’ that can go on gloves, tapes, or anything where an adhesive might find use.  Scientists examine the molecular basis of adhesion using various methods, including Atomic Force Microscopy, to explore new substances and identify possible adhesive materials for use with sports applications.

Looking for inspiration, scientists have turned to nature and examined the gecko to see how it can stick to glass walls and run up rock faces with such ease. In this research, scientists have determined that geckos use uniquely structured keratin setae pads to stick to and release from slippery surfaces (Qu 2008).  This research has prompted chemists to develop a non-biological material that has a very similar structure to the gecko’s own pad.

Football gloves have come a long way, from the use and ban of the axle grease-like substance Stickum, to the purported use of neoprene scuba gloves, and to the gloves players use today.  In time, it may be possible that some of the newest discoveries in adhesive materials – such as the material inspired by the gecko – will find their way into the sports arena.

By: Bret Van Ausdall, University of Utah

Learn more about the technical aspects of adhesion and polymers.


Qu, L., L. Dai, M. Stone, Z. Xia, & Z.L.Wang. 2008. Carbon nanotube arrays with strong shear binding-on and easy normal lifting-off.  Science 322:238

Articles by Bret Van Ausdall.

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