Design principles for creating synthetic underwater adhesives
Water and adhesives have a conflicting relationship as demonstrated by the failure of most man-made adhesives in underwater environments. However, living creatures routinely adhere to substrates underwater. For example, sandcastle worms create protective reefs underwater by secreting a cocktail of protein glue that binds mineral particles together, and mussels attach themselves to rocks near tide-swept sea shores using byssal threads formed from their extracellular secretions. Over the past few decades, the physicochemical examination of biological underwater adhesives has begun to decipher the mysteries behind underwater adhesion. These naturally occurring adhesives have inspired the creation of several synthetic materials that can stick underwater – a task that was once thought to be “impossible”. This review provides a comprehensive overview of the progress in the science of underwater adhesion over the past few decades. In this review, we introduce the basic thermodynamics processes and kinetic parameters involved in adhesion. Second, we describe the challenges brought by water when adhering underwater. Third, we explore the adhesive mechanisms showcased by mussels and sandcastle worms to overcome the challenges brought by water. We then present a detailed review of synthetic underwater adhesives that have been reported to date. Finally, we discuss some potential applications of underwater adhesives and the current challenges in the field by using a tandem analysis of the reported chemical structures and their adhesive strength. This review is aimed to inspire and facilitate the design of novel synthetic underwater adhesives, that will, in turn expand our understanding of the physical and chemical parameters that influence underwater adhesion.