Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jonathan J. Wilker

Committee Member 1

Corey M. Thompson

Committee Member 2

Garth J. Simpson

Committee Member 3

Tong Ren


When it comes to underwater adhesion, shellfish are the true experts. Mussels, barnacles, and oysters attach to rocks with apparent ease. Yet our man-made glues often fail miserably when trying to stick in wet environments. Results described herein focus on poly[(3,4-dihydroxystyrene)-co-styrene], a polymer mimic of mussel adhesive proteins. Underwater bonding was examined as a function of several parameters including polymer molecular weight and composition. In doing so, several surprising results emerged. Poly[(3,4-dihydroxystyrene)-co-styrene] may be the strongest underwater adhesive found to date. Bonding even exceeded that of the reference biological system, live mussels. Adhesion was also found to be stronger under salt water versus deionized water. Such unexpected findings may contradict earlier proposals in which charged amino acids were thought to be key for mussel adhesive function. Taken together, these discoveries are helping us to both understand biological adhesion as well as develop new materials with properties not accessed previously.