Spraying spiders with atom-thick graphene or carbon nanotubes infuses their webs with "unprecedented" super-strength -- enough to catch a falling plane from the sky.
Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy found that combining 300 nanometre-wide graphene particles or nanotubes with water, and spraying the solution onto arachnids, had surprising effects on their silk.
Through a process that is not yet entirely clear, some of the 15 Pholcidae spiders in the study created webs that where 3.5 times as tough as the best silk known to nature -- that of the giant riverine orb spider. It's also on a par with the other toughest material known to nature -- limpet teeth.
Spider silk is one of the more extraordinary materials known to science. The protein fiber, spun by spiders to make webs, is stronger than almost anything that humans can make.
The dragline silk spiders use to make a web’s outer rim and spokes is amazing stuff. It matches high-grade alloy steel for tensile strength but is about a sixth as dense. It is also highly ductile, sometimes capable of stretching to five times its length.
This combination of strength and ductility makes spider silk extremely tough, matching the toughness of state-of-the-art carbon fibers such as Kevlar.
So it goes without saying that the ability to make spider silk even stronger and tougher would be a significant scientific coup. Which is why the work of Emiliano Lepore at the University of Trento in Italy and a few pals is something of a jaw-dropper.
These guys have found a way to incorporate carbon nanotubes and graphene into spider silk and increase its strength and toughness beyond anything that has been possible before. The resulting material has properties such as fracture strength, Young’s modulus, and toughness modulus higher than anything ever measured.
Italian researchers have discovered that common backyard spiders, when sprayed by carbon nanomaterials, can produce silk several times stronger than the most resilient spider thread known. Their work is very preliminary, but hints at the possibility of super-silks that exceed the already remarkable properties of web-spinning thread.