Do you know about the Gecko? This tiny lizard is a familiar site in tropical climates, and is often seen clinging to walls or ceilings of homes. Geckoes do homeowners a great service by ridding the house of pests like flies, ants, mosquitoes and roaches. Soon we'll all owe it a debt of thanks - as studies of it produce new science.

Bio-mimicry means copying from Nature's living systems. For example, medical research recently discovered how to regenerate limbs from that esteemed gecko.

When caught, the gecko nonchalantly leaves a piece of his tail in the predator's mouth and runs off, knowing it'll soon enough grow it back. Well recently, science discovered how geckoes manipulate their DNA to grow a whole new limb. Labs are now trying to find how that applies to humans.

Another puzzle - this one has been questioned since Aristotle's time - was just solved. How does the gecko walk vertically - often upside-down - on ultra smooth surfaces like glass and stainless steel?

Working together, botanists and physicists from UCLA found that it has millions of tiny hairs on its feet that cling to the space in molecules. Each hair is split into 1000 tips that are so small they can only be seen with an electron microscope. The design of each tip is such that it can grasp an invisible « molecular force » by hooking into a space that is about 8/1000th of a centimeter wide. Its foot fibres will reach down into invisible spaces in solid matter. And they can pull free at a 30°angle to their vertical entry. This allows the gecko to grab glass like it's Velcro.

Chemists fabricated an innovative version of synthetic gecko hair and tried it on highly polished semiconductor material. Reaching into the invisible “force”, the new fiber can stick to both super-smooth silicon and gallium-arsenic based surfaces - just like the gecko’s feet. The National Academy of Science suggests this will revolutionize computer chips, and therefore most everything else. It also offers major innovations to the textile industry.

Amazed at these kinds of research "
breakthroughs", I was surprised to learn that very few innovations start out as R&D in University labs. In fact a great percentage of innovative ideas come from people who tinker to improve something that already in their daily life. The data shows that innovative breakthroughs have 8 sources:
  1. Innovation from Research and Development labs : 4%
  2. Innovation linked to a wave of invention (computer peripherals) : 5%
  3. Innovation from a "light bulb moment" : 20% - Of those...
  4. Innovations from actualizing a family idea : 2%
  5. Innovations from studying another industry : 4%
  6. Innovations from having a personal need : 6%
  7. Innovations from developing or nurturing a hobby : 8%
  8. Innovation that improved something already existing : 71%

Take a good look at your day. Does anything need improving? I’ll tell you what - suppress the tendency to go yuck next time you see a creepy-crawly thing and remember the debt we owe the gecko lizard.

Then you can wonder about what innovative breakthrough will follow if you closely observe that creepy-crawly. What might that bring you?