Kellar Autumn

Professor of biology

Biology-Psychology 227, MSC: 53

Prof. Kellar Autumn’s research focus lies at the interface of biology (biomechanics), engineering (contact mechanics and materials science), and physics (intermolecular and interfacial forces. Prof. Autumn received his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1988, and his PhD in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley in 1995. He continued at Berkeley as an Office of Naval Research Postdoctoral Fellow until 1998, and joined the faculty of Biology at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregon in the same year. In his lab he and his students study the mechanisms and evolution of animal locomotion and develop biologically inspired materials and machines. Research has also taken him out of the lab to the Taklimakan, Gobi, and Kara Kum Deserts of central Asia.

Prof. Autumn has authored over 60 scientific papers, which have been cited in peer reviewed publications more than 5500 times. Of those papers, 31 have been cited 31 or more times (h-index = 31). 43 papers have been cited at least 10 times, and 10 have been cited more than 100 times. Thompson/ISI lists Professor Autumn as a highly cited author in the field of Materials Science and Engineering, and he is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Special Creativity Award.

He received worldwide acclaim for his research on adhesion in geckos and the discovery of the world’s first dry self-cleaning adhesive, published in the journals Nature and PNAS. Prof. Autumn’s research has grown into a new field of study at the interface between biology, physics, and materials science. In the US alone, federal grant spending focused on the study of gecko-like adhesive nanostructures was over $30 Million in 2010 and there are more than 100 US patents and patent applications in this new area. Prof. Autumn and his colleagues hold the fundamental patents for synthetic adhesive nanostructures, and are designing legged robots that can run up walls. Prof. Autumn serves as a consultant for the development and application of biologically inspired technology. His research is featured textbooks, encyclopedias, and popular books including The Nanotech Pioneers: Where Are They Taking Us? Every major television network has covered his work, as have hundreds of newspaper, magazine, and internet articles worldwide. He appeared recently on the NOVA television show, Making Stuff Smarter.

Academic Credentials

PhD 1995 University of California at Berkeley, BA 1988 University of California at Santa Cruz


General Research Interests:

  • Biomechanics, physiology, and evolution of animal locomotion
  • Adhesive biomaterials in geckos and other animals
  • Biological inspiration for novel engineering designs.

Professional Experience

Professional Accomplishments:

  • Founded new sub-field of research: gecko adhesion / adhesive nanostructures at the interface between biology, physics, and materials science.
  • Discovered that geckos stick to walls with intermolecular van Waals forces (PNAS 2002).
  • Discovered that gecko foot-hairs are the first self-cleaning adhesive known to science (PNAS 2005)
  • Discovered that gecko setae are a “smart adhesive” controlled mechanically not chemically (Nature 2000).
  • Invented and patented first biologically-inspired design for gecko-like dry adhesive nanostructures, “gecko glue”. US Patents #6,737,160 and #7,011,723.
  • Discovered that geckos use only 1/3 as much energy to move as do other animals with legs.
  • Challenged common assumption that evolution produces optimal designs. Showed that adaptation often produces suboptimal designs.

Location: Biology-Psychology Hall