The suction cups found in octopus tentacles are the inspiration for a synthetic adhesive that functions well in dry and wet conditions and is resistant to chemical contamination.
Adhesion strategies that rely on mechanical interlocking or molecular attractions between surfaces can suffer when coming into contact with liquids1,2. Thus far, artificial wet and dry adhesives have included hierarchical mushroom-shaped or porous structures that allow suction or capillarity3,4,5,6, supramolecular structures comprising nanoparticles7, and chemistry-based attractants that use various protein polyelectrolytes8,9,10. However, it is challenging to develop adhesives that are simple to make and also perform well—and repeatedly—under both wet and dry conditions, while avoiding non-chemical contamination on the adhered surfaces11. Here we present an artificial, biologically inspired, reversible wet/dry adhesion system that is based on the dome-like protuberances found in the suction cups of octopi. To mimic the architecture of these protuberances12,13,14, we use a simple, solution-based, air-trap technique that involves fabricating a patterned structure as a polymeric master, and using it to produce a reversed architecture, without any sophisticated chemical syntheses or surface modifications. The micrometre-scale domes in our artificial adhesive enhance the suction stress. This octopus-inspired system exhibits strong, reversible, highly repeatable adhesion to silicon wafers, glass, and rough skin surfaces under various conditions (dry, moist, under water and under oil). To demonstrate a potential application, we also used our adhesive to transport a large silicon wafer in air and under water without any resulting surface contamination.