REAL-LIFE SPIDER-MAN: SUPER-SILK
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.