Scientists decode secret of spider silk's strength

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 29, 2013 10:20 hrs

Washington, Jan 29 (IANS) Scientists have cracked the secret of spider silk's strength and what makes the fibre at least five times as tough as piano wire, weight for weight.

Arizona State University researchers are studying the silk's molecular structure in a bid to produce materials ranging from bullet-proof vests to artificial tendons, using a sophisticated but non-invasive 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, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona, who led the research, the journal Nature Materials reported.

"This work represents the most complete understanding we have of the underlying mechanical properties of spider silk," said Yarger, according to an Arizona statement.

Spider silk is an exceptional biological polymer, related to collagen (the material found in skin and bones) but much more complex in its structure. The extensive array of elastic and mechanical properties of spider silks in situ, obtained by the team, is the first of its kind.

"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 fibres to create stronger and more elastic materials," explained Yarger, whose team included Kristie Koski and undergraduate students Paul Akhenblit and Keri McKiernan.

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