A team of scientists has developed an incredible new material inspired by spider silk.
Spider silk is among the toughest materials found in nature. According to a report from New Scientist, a team of researchers from the University of Oxford and Pierre and Marie Curie University has created an artificial substance mimicking the spider web’s properties that could have profound implications for the materials industry.
Scientists drew inspiration from the capture silk of an orb-weaver spider. The spider uses this sticky substance to form the inner spiral part of the web, and not the radial spokes providing the web’s structural support.
The substance they came up with was slightly different, however. They were surprised to find that when stretched the silk extended outward, but when compressed it somehow retained tension instead of sagging in the middle.
According to co-author Arnaud Antkowiak, “You can go up to 95 percent and it remains taught, it seems to adapt its length. We know of materials that behave like this, but these are not solids, they are liquids. It’s just weird.”
Researchers believe the material acts like both a solid and a liquid. Antkowiak explains that the silk from the spiral portion of the spider’s web is made of a filament covered in droplets of sticky glue. “It’s a hybrid material composed of liquid and solid,” he said.
When the thread is compressed, the filament buckles inward and wraps itself around the glue droplets. This is what allows it to stay taught at varying lengths. Using this insight, the team replicated the behavior of the spider silk using plastic filaments covered in silicone oil, ethanol and a range of other liquids.
“We conducted hundreds of experiments with different materials and liquids,” said Antkowiak in a statement. “We found that we could buckle, coil and spool virtually any filament surrounded by any droplet, provided the capillary force exerted by the drop exceeded the threshold for buckling of the thread.”
The team says the material could have applications in soft robotics and microfabrication, and potentially even more. Check out a video of the spider silk wire in action here:
A news release from the University of Oxford describing the details of the study can be found here.