Gecko Feet Help Keep Fine Art Clean

A new way to gather dust

Gecko feet are providing art conservators with a new way of keeping fine artwork clean.

Unfortunately, this does not entail releasing hordes of geckos into a museum after hours, letting their tiny feet clean Rembrandts and Van Goghs like a swarm of creatures from a Disney movie.

No, in this case, gecko feet are simply the inspiration for a new kind of material that can collect the smallest motes of dust from a painting without damaging it. This is especially useful for some types of more delicate art.

“Acrylic paints are incredibly porous, so anything you’re putting on the surface could get into the pores, and then work from the insides of the pores to soften the paints,” Cindy Schwartz, an art conservator at Yale said.

In a study published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces researchers developed a polymer that had tiny columns all over it, just like the pads on a gecko’s feet.

The flexible sheets of columns have an electrostatic charge, and can pick up tiny dust particles by just being tapped against an artwork. The static charge attracts dust away from the painting, just like laundry fresh out of the dryer attracts socks. Best of all, unlike gecko feet, the material is designed to be flexible, not sticky, meaning it won’t cling to the already delicate artwork.