Scientists have uncovered a way for spiders to spin unprecedented super-strong silk that's up to 3.5 times tougher than silk produced by the giant riverine orb spider. It's so resilient, in fact, that Wired says the silk could "catch a falling plane."
The secret: spraying spiders with atom-thick graphene and carbon nanotubes.
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Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy combined one of the strongest artificial materials, graphene, with one of the strongest natural materials, spider silk. They found that spiders sprayed with a solution containing 300-nanometer-wide graphene particles found a way to work the graphene into their silk.
It's still somewhat of a mystery how this actually took place. Some hypothesize that the graphene and nanotubes coated the outside of the silk, whereas others think the materials were absorbed by the spider and then became incorporated into the silk they produced.
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However, other parts of the experiment are more obvious. The graphene infusion, for example, didn't work for every spider. Some spiders actually spun a lower-grade silk, and four spiders died before producing any silk. Researchers plan to addresses these situations in future experiments.
In the meantime, the experiment has certainly woven a larger web: the approach could be extended to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of bionic materials for ultimate applications.