REAL-LIFE SPI­DER-MAN: SU­PER-SILK

HWM (Malaysia) - - IMPACT - By Ko­hWanzi

Your friendly neigh­bor­hood Spi­der-Man may not be real, but his su­per-strong web might just be. Sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Trento in Italy still don’t know how to give you the pow­ers of ev­ery­one’s fa­vorite web slinger, but they could just be on the path to the next best thing.

The re­searchers found a way to get spi­ders to weave webs in­fused with car­bon nan­otubes and graphene, and the re­sult was spi­der silk that ex­ceeds even the tough­est knot­ted fibers in strength. They did this by spray­ing five spi­ders from the Phol­ci­dae fam­ily with a mix­ture of wa­ter and graphene par­ti­cles 200mm to 300nm wide. Graphene con­sists of sheets of car­bon just one atom thick. It is also one of the strong­est ar­ti­fi­cial ma­te­ri­als, which makes it apt that it would be com­bined with spi­der silk, one of the strong­est nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als.

Another ten spi­ders were also sprayed with car­bon nan­otubes and wa­ter to com­pare the ef­fects of the two ma­te­ri­als.

While the re­sults were not al­ways pos­i­tive, some spi­ders did re­ceive a ma­jor boost in web strength. The gi­ant river­ine orb spi­der that was dosed with nan­otubes came out on top, and its silk was around 3.5 times as tough and strong as the best un­al­tered silk.

The process by which the spi­ders in­cor­po­rate the new ma­te­ri­als into their silk is still un­clear, but one the­ory is that the spi­ders ab­sorb the ma­te­ri­als in their en­vi­ron­ment and weave it into their silk. And see­ing that four of the spi­ders died soon af­ter be­ing sprayed, this cer­tainly looks to be a pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion. But while the tech­nique is far from com­plete and it’s not yet clear how such su­per-silk could be used, the re­searchers al­ready think it could make pre­vi­ously im­plau­si­ble con­structs a re­al­ity in the fu­ture, such as con­struct­ing a gi­ant net ca­pa­ble of catch­ing fall­ing air­craft.

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