Synthetic setae emulate the setae found on the toes of a gecko and scientific research in this area is driven towards the development of dry adhesives. Geckos have no difficulty mastering vertical walls and are apparently capable of adhering themselves to just about any surface. The 5-toed feet of a gecko are covered with elastic hairs called setae and the end of these hairs are split into nanoscale structures called spatulae (because of their resemblance to actual spatulas). The sheer abundance and proximity to the surface of these spatulae make it sufficient for van der Waals forces alone to provide the required adhesive strength. Following the discovery of the gecko’s adhesion mechanism in 2002, which is based on van der Waals forces, biomimetic adhesives have become the topic of a major research effort. These developments are poised to yield families of novel adhesive materials with superior properties which are likely to find uses in industries ranging from defense and nanotechnology to healthcare and sport.
Ben Krasnow had more info on his blog here on a recent attempt at creating the substance.