Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Amazing if True: Spiders Spinning Graphene Webs

What could possibly go wrong with this?
These are not your friendly neighborhood spiders: scientists have mixed a graphene solution that when fed to spiders allows them to spin super-strong webbing. How strong? Strong enough to carry the weight of a person. And these spiders might soon be enlisted to help manufacture enhanced ropes and cables, possibly even parachutes for skydivers, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

Graphene is a wonder-material that is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms. It's incredibly strong, but it was definitely a shot in the dark to see what would happen if it was fed to spiders.

For the study, Nicola Pugno and team at the University of Trento in Italy added graphene and carbon nanotubes to a spider's drinking water. The materials were naturally incorporated into the spider's silk, producing webbing that is five times stronger than normal. That puts it on par with pure carbon fibers in strength, as well as with Kevlar, the material bulletproof vests are made from.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"Strong enough to carry the weight of a person" ought to have been qualified, because the way they wrote that it seems to suggest you could stand on a single strand of naturally laid spider silk, when in reality you'd need to have a very great many strands, as in rope or fabric, and then secure that material to solid anchor points.

This is pretty much entirely harmless, from an ecological standpoint. Spider silk is already remarkably strong, so having it be five times stronger in nature is kind of redundant. Moreover, the spiders can't and won't produce this silk without a constant diet of graphene, so even if they escape containment and get into the wild, they will just revert to producing ordinary silk.

I do have my doubts that this will be more efficient than synthetic production of graphene textiles within a few decades, though. Spider silk is already notoriously hard to harvest and make useable in decent quantities.