By Alec Rosenberg
|UCSB alumnus Mike North prepares for TV segment.
When the Discovery Channel’s new show “Prototype This!” needed a climactic backdrop for an upcoming episode, it turned to the UC Office of the President.
After all, what better place to test Gecko Claws – gecko-inspired climbing paddles based on UC Berkeley research and created by a UC Santa Barbara alumnus-led team – than UC’s administrative headquarters in Oakland?
With the Broadway entrance of the 1111 Franklin St. office closed Oct. 24, crews filmed climber Lyn Verinsky’s attempt to scale the building’s five-story concrete wall using “Gecko Claws.”
“I’m really nervous," said “Prototype This!!” co-host Mike North. "This project has been very near and dear to my heart. I’ve been putting in 100-hour weeks on it.” North received a doctorate in materials science and engineering from UC Santa Barbara, which he said fostered creativity and collaboration.
Nowadays, North collaborates with co-hosts Andrew “Zoz” Brooks (robotics), Joe Grand (electronics) and Terry Sandin (special effects) to use emerging technologies to invent prototypes such as mind-controlled cars, boxing robots or, in this case, Gecko Claws.
For this episode, the team turned to UC Berkeley integrative biology professor Robert Full, who has studied geckos and their amazing mobility. While gecko lizards use claws to scale rough surfaces, they use microscopic toe hairs to climb smooth surfaces, Full discovered.
Applying Full’s research – and aided by Stanford University researchers and San Francisco mechanical engineer Arturo Meuniot – the “Prototype This!” team assembled two types of paddles: for smooth surfaces, silicon rubber paddles; for rough surfaces, fish hooks.
Armed with two handheld paddles each containing 1,500 fish hooks – and with a safety rope – Verinsky ascended the UC administrative building’s wall.
Would the paddles, also inspired by the cockroach, work?
Verinsky did slip a couple of times, but she made it to the top. Call her Gecko Woman.
“To make something that works like this is amazing,” North said. “This is looking like a new piece of climbing gear right here.”
The technology could have many applications, including search-and-rescue operations, robots that explore Mars or even uses closer to home.
“Think about the coffee cup that doesn’t slip,” North said. “We could change coffee drinking forever.”
Click Here to view video of the event.
“Prototype This!” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on the Discovery Channel. The Gecko Claws episode date has not yet been set. Visit the show's Web site for schedule.