Spider silk is already one of the toughest substances found in nature. It was the toughest until it was discovered recently that the material that the teeth of limpets, an aquatic snail, are made of is even harder. There has been a fascinating development in the field of improving natural materials through incorporating man-made materials. A team of scientists has found a way to make spider silk even tougher. They sprayed spiders with water that contained carbon nanotubes and graphene, and the spiders then incorporated these materials into their silk to produce a new type of “super silk.” Spider silk was already very tough in that it matched state-of-the-art man-made fibers like Kevlar.
Steve Murray says there are those who are trying to figure out ways to mass produce materials like spider silk as its combination of strength and flexibility would give it wide ranging applications. Now a little human ingenuity has magnified this already tough material. One obvious use would be to toughen, while simultaneously lightening, body armor and bullet-proof vests. The first company that develops a process to mass produce these biologically based super materials will be very well off as these materials will be the future. The ease with which these scientists enabled spiders to incorporate stronger materials into their silk also point toward modifying other plants and animals to create whole new types of organic based materials with a variety of properties.