Jacek Olender - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Jacek Olender

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Jacek Olender

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: Gecko-inspired Dry Adhesives: Evaluating their Applicability to the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

Supervised by Dr Christina Young

Funded by

  • David Skipsey Memorial Scholarship
  • Edmond J Safra Scholarship

Geckos are a group of lizards containing about 1450 species in 118 genera. Around 60% of them have a unique ability to walk on every type of surface, regardless of the angle between the surface and the ground. First to write about amazing abilities of geckos was Aristotle, about 2500 years ago. Research has showed, that the gecko has rows of nanohairs on underneath of its feet. Such hairs are called setae; these have nano-dimensions (about 3-4 μm in diameter and 30-130 μm in length), but they also have even smaller hairs at the top, called spatulae. The name comes from the fact that they resemble a spatula. On the very top, dimensions of spatulae are around 150×5 nm. The nanosize of the whole system allows it to fit into pores of every surface. Even the surfaces that look perfectly polished and smooth have pores and imperfections. Because of their scale, spatulae can get closer to the atoms of particular surface. So close, they are able to connect with them using van der Waals secondary bonding forces.

Scientists working in the field of materials engineering have recreated the gecko adhesion on polymer foil, for use in different industries. Because of very good adhesion, possible easy detachment (a fraction of basic adhesion forces when detached in proper way) and lack of solvents or chemical adhesives GDAs seem to be very promising materials for Cultural Heritage protection. Yet, to my best knowledge, no laboratory research has been performed to evaluate the application of gecko-inspired dry adhesives on Cultural Heritage. The published research conducted on existing GDAs has focused on characterisation and evaluation of their possible applications in robotics or electronic equipment industry.


The aim of this project is to build a foundation for gecko-inspired dry adhesives usage in Cultural Heritage conservation. It will suggest the safety ground rules for conservation applications of GDAs and indicate the basic needs in adjusting the materials for conservators. If GDAs are proved to be suitable this this application, they will fill a major gap between ethical postulates regarding certain procedures and the everyday reality of the conservator’s studio. It is hoped that this research can not only give perspectives for further research and development of better adapted gecko-inspired dry adhesives, but also give new, effective tools to practicing conservators and all the people responsible for an objects preservation.


  • 2.10.2015 – Present    – PhD in Art History (Art Conservation), Courtauld Institute of Art, London, United Kingdom
  • 1.10.2014 – Present    – PhD in Philosophy, Graduate School for Social Research, Warsaw, Poland (Thesis: “Institutionalization of science – influence on scientific methodology”)
  • 1.10.2008 – 07.07.2014  – MA in Art Conservation and Restoration, specialization: conservation and restoration of paintings and polychrome sculptures, Faculty of Fine Arts, Nicholaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland (Thesis: “Possibilities of adapting the newest achievements of materials engineering for the needs of art conservation”)
  • 1.10.2012 – 25.06.2014  – BA in Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, Nicholaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland (continued from University of Silesia; thesis title: (“Universities we head for – socio-philosophical aspects of shaping the policy of science and higher education”)
  • 1.10.2006 – 30.09.2008 – Philosophy student, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland.

Research interests

  • New materials in art conservation
  • Conservation Science
  • Conservation of paintings, polychromies and polychrome sculptures
  • Materiality of the work of art
  • Scientific methodology

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