Spiders weave graphene-laden ultra strong silk webs

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Graphene continues to surprise us and couple it with the innovation of scientists and we have something that paves way for a range of new applications that weren’t possible before. One such innovative idea was born in the minds of researchers over at the University of Trento, Italy where they thought of combining graphene with silk woven by spiders.

To combine graphene with silk, researchers though of spraying a solution containing 300-nanometer-wide graphene particles on spiders from the Pholcidae family. In the same experiment they sprayed another 10 spiders with carbon nanotubes and water to compare the effects of graphene and carbon nanotubes.

The results were astonishing as the spiders somehow found out a way of incorporating graphene into the silk to spin unprecedented super-strong silk. The spiders also spun silk with carbon nanotubes as well. There were spiders that spun silk that was well below the quality expected; however others spun silk so strong that it was up to 3.5 times tougher than silk produced by the giant riverine orb spider originally. Scientists say that the the graphene-laden silk was so resilient, that it could “catch a falling plane.”

Nicola Pugno of the University of Trento and his colleagues haven’t been able to figure out how the process took place, but there are two main hypothesis. First is that the graphene and nanotubes coated the outside of the silk, while the second hypothesis states that the materials were absorbed by the spider and then became incorporated into the silk they produced.

Pugno believes that coating of the silk from outside doesn’t really fit the bill as it is not enough to explain the increase in strength. Instead, the researcher believes that spiders would have absorbed the graphene and carbon nanotubes and incorporated them into the silk.

This seems to be a more plausible explanation as this could also explain why four of the spiders died soon after being sprayed.

You can find the research paper here.

Applicability

Researchers are not sure how such graphene- and carbon nanotubes-laden silk can be used, but one possibility is to produce large webs that are capable of catching falling airplanes. The research also opens up avenues wherein possibility of producing bionic materials by dosing silkworms with artificial substances can be looked at.

Further, the experiment also paves way for experiments involving other animals and plants that could lead to creation of new bionic materials for ultimate applications.