sPider siLk

Friday, September 26, 2008

It is lighter than cotton, yet ounce for ounce it is stronger than steel. For decades scientists have studied the silk produced by orb-weaving spiders. Dragline silk-the strongest of the seven silks these spiders can spin-has attracted the most attention. It is tougher and more waterproof than silkworm strands, which are commonly used in clothing. The manufacturer of industrial fibers such as Kevlar requires high temperatures and the use of organic solvents. In contrast, spiders produce silk at room temperature, using water as a solvent. Furthermore, the dragline is also tougher than Kevlar. If enlarged to the size of a football field, a web of dragline silk could stop a jumbo jet in flight!

Not surprisingly, researchers are intrigued by the toughness of dragline silk. Scientists would like to exploit that property in items ranging from bulletproof vests to suspension cables for bridges. But replicating dragline silk is not easy, for the material is made inside the spider's body and the process is not yet fully understood.

Isn't it humbling to realize that a lot of smart people are trying to replicate what these tiny, little creatures in our basements can do naturally!

full article in awake magazine