Physics

Microscopic 'sunflowers' for better solar panels

The pads of geckos' notoriously sticky feet are covered with setae—microscopic, hairlike structures whose chemical and physical composition and high flexibility allow the lizard to grip walls and ceilings with ease. Scientists have tried to replicate such dynamic microstructures in the lab with a variety of materials, including liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), which are rubbery networks with attached liquid crystalline groups that dictate the directions in which the LCEs can move and stretch. So far, synthetic LCEs have mostly been able to deform in only one or two dimensions, limiting the structures' ability to move throughout space and take on different shapes.