A PASSION FOR PHYSICS—AND FASHION (+)

As we noted in the Fall 2015 issue, the tiny hairs on gecko feet exploit intermolecular, electrostatic attractive forces—called van der Waals forces—to allow the reptiles to defy gravity. Using a technology based on the same mechanism, one enterprising alumnus has found a way to meld physics with fashion.

Probably no one in history has ever needed to write a sentence that contained the words “gecko feet,” “van der Waals forces,” and “strapless bras.”

Until now.

That’s because Caltech alum Tony Roy (PhD, ’10) made an unlikely connection between the three, all in an effort to solve his wife’s dilemma of finding a strapless bra that would not slip over the course of an evening. His novel solution—which mixes physics, biomimicry, and fashion—spurred the creation of a new apparel company, Kellie K Apparel, named for his wife.

Roy’s insight was to incorporate into strapless bras a material that uses the same van der Waals forces that allow geckos to stick to walls and ceilings to deter the bras’ annoying tendency to slip. Specifically, he used a biocompatible, silicone-based material he designed, called GeckTech, as the crucial adhesive. (You can learn more about how GeckTech works on this webpage, which includes a video of Roy—with his friend and fellow Caltech alum, chemist Jessica Pfeilsticker (PhD ’14)—discussing the science behind the adhesive.)

Kellie K secured $27,000 in Kickstarter funding on November 12—the second round of funding it has received from Kickstarter—that will enable it to refine its bra designs based on customer feedback received over the past two years.

Before starting the company, Roy designed prototypes for various multimillion dollar startups as a research engineer at Idealab. He received his BS and MS degrees from the Ohio State University and his PhD from Caltech, all in mechanical engineering.

Roy said engineering the gecko-inspired bra was unusual in that it lacked the kinds of set objective parameters he was used to, needing instead to satisfy subjective requirements such as fit, aesthetics, and comfort. But regardless of the engineering challenges, he says he suspected the concept for the bra was solid pretty early on. “I thought the first one I made for my wife would be marginally better than a conventional strapless at best,” he notes. “But I knew I had made something special when she grabbed it the next time she needed to wear a strapless bra.”

—Written by Jon Nalick