Purdue University Graduate School
A.Putnam_Thesis.pdf (179.57 MB)

Designing Functional Biomimetic Adhesives: Bringing Nature's Methods to Market

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posted on 2020-12-16, 14:16 authored by Amelia A PutnamAmelia A Putnam
An estimated 20 million tons of adhesives are used globally each year, and the amount is continually increasing. Glues are used in nearly every economic sector but are largely consumed by key external drivers of the industry including construction and transportation equipment to replace mechanical fasteners. Many of these applications require specific functionality, like moisture resistance, desirable mechanical properties, or low toxicity. However, specific features usually occur at the expense of adhesive strength, and there is no “one size fits all” adhesive. The search for more practical and stronger glues has contributed to the development of biomimetic adhesives. Marine mussels and other sea creatures produce biological adhesives that stick well underwater. By using nature as an inspiration for better glues, we can combine stronger bonding and additional functionality into one adhesive system. Introducing the same catechol moiety used by marine organisms into synthetic polymers has allowed us to produce adhesives stronger than commercial glues in both dry and wet environments.

While many of these biomimetic polymer adhesives have been prepared, few have made it to market. Here, multiple biomimetic polymer adhesives are studied and optimized for different applications to provide the next step towards commercialization. The adhesives were tailored for use on different surfaces and conditions through formulation or polymer design. Structure-function studies have showed how surface energy influences optimal adhesion with catechol-containing polymers for applications in bonding dissimilar substrates while maintaining desired mechanical properties. Multiple adhesive systems were studied in mice to assess toxicity and determine viability as potential surgical glues. Underwater formulation and application methods were also pursued to improve product development strategies for offering a competitive advantage as an underwater glue. In addition to these practical-use modifications of the adhesives, industry research and market analysis was conducted to provide insight into further applications to pursue. A cost analysis led to creating new synthetic strategies for cost-reduction and scale-up, both of which are essential in the commercialization of a catechol-containing polymer adhesive.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jonathan J. Wilker

Additional Committee Member 2

Jianguo Mei

Additional Committee Member 3

Corey Thompson

Additional Committee Member 4

Julie Liu