- When spiders are fed graphene they produce silk five times stronger than before
- That silk is strong enough to carry a human and could be used in parachutes
- Scientists in Italy found they produce it when graphene is put in spiders’ water
- The ‘super silk’ is at strong as carbon fiber and the bulletproof material Kevlar
Parachutes could be made out spiders utilized to spin super-strong and genetically-enhanced webs in the near future, research has shown.
Scientists have confirmed feeding a graphene solution to spiders allows them to spin webbing strong enough to carry a weight of a person, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Graphene is an incredibly strong material made of carbon atoms joined in a hexagonal lattice.
A team of scientists at the University of Trento in Italy conducted a study in which they added graphene and carbon nanotubes to water and fed it to a group of spiders.
They found that the materials were then incorporated into the spider’s silk, which produced webbing five times stronger than normal.
Scientists have confirmed feeding a graphene solution to spiders allows them to spin webbing strong enough to carry a weight of a person (stock image)
The method of putting those materials into the spiders’ water supply takes advantage of their natural metabolic processes, the researchers explained.
‘We already know that there are biominerals present in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles, and teeth, for example, lead author Dr Nicola Pugno told the Herald.
‘So our study looked at whether spider silk’s properties could be ‘enhanced’ by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterial into the silk’s biological protein structures.’
This ‘super silk’ has the same level of strength as pure carbon fibers and Kevlar, the material that makes bulletproof vests.
WHAT IS GRAPHENE?
Graphene is a single atomic layer of carbon atoms bound in a hexagonal network.
It not only promises to revolutionize semiconductor, sensor, and display technology, but could also lead to breakthroughs in fundamental quantum physics research.
It is often depicted as an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms and their bonds.
Scientists believe it could one day be used to make transparent conducting materials, biomedical sensors and even extremely light, yet strong, aircraft of the future.
Similar to another important nanomaterial – carbon nanotubes – graphene is incredibly strong – around 200 times stronger than structural steel.
So far what has been produced has only been tested on a small scale to look at the concept, but Dr Pugno said the results are promising.
‘It is among the best spun polymer fibers in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness,’ she explained.
Further testing is still necessary, and the product will likely need to be refined, but the results show that spiders could eventually being used by companies to mass-produce super-strong silk.
Dr Pugno said the research also shows promise for similar projects to be done in other animals.
‘This process of the natural integration of reinforcements in biological structural materials could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of “bionicomposites” for innovative applications,’ she said.
And similar research has been done with graphene in other creatures.
In 2016 a team of scientists fed silkworms carbon nanotubes and graphene, and found that they were able to spin an ultra-strong ‘super-silk.’
Researchers at Tsinghua University found that feeding the larvae a diet fortified with nanomaterials, including graphene and carbon nanotubes, enabled the larvae to reinforce the threads themselves.
Parts of the nanomaterials were incorporated into the fibres spun by the insects.
According to Scientific American, the reinforced silk is far stronger and able to withstand 50 per cent more stress before the strands break.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online