Academic journal article Science Scope

Spider-Silk Secrets Revealed

Academic journal article Science Scope

Spider-Silk Secrets Revealed

Article excerpt

Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) are celebrating their recent success on the path to understanding what makes the fiber that spiders spin--weight for weight--at least five times as strong as piano wire. They have found a way to obtain a wide variety of elastic proper ties of the silk of several intact spiders' webs using a sophisticated but noninvasive laser light-scattering technique.

"Spider silk has a unique combination of mechanical strength and elasticity that make it one of the toughest materials we know," said Jeffery Yarger, a professor in ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistr y and lead researcher of the study. "This work represents the most complete understanding we have of the underlying mechanical properties of spider silks."

Spider silk is an exceptional biological polymer, related to collagen (the stuff of skin and bones) but much more complex in its structure. The ASU team of chemists is studying its molecular structure in an effort to produce materials ranging from bulletproof vests to artificial tendons.

The extensive array of elastic and mechanical proper ties of spider silks in situ, obtained by the ASU team, is the first of its kind and will greatly facilitate future modeling efforts aimed at understanding the interplay of the mechanical proper ties and the molecular structure of silk used to produce spider webs. "This information should help provide a blueprint for structural engineering of an abundant array of bio-inspired materials, such as precise materials engineering of synthetic fibers to create stronger, stretchier, and more elastic materials," explained Yarger. …

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