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Mysterious Spider Silk -
One Of Nature's Most Intriguing Structures - In A New Light

7 February, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Spider silks possess nature’s most exceptional mechanical properties, with unrivalled extensibility and high tensile strength. Unfortunately, our understanding of silks is limited.

A few days back, we reported some impressive results obtained by a group of scientists of ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, trying to reveal deep secrets of spider silk.

Now a research team of the Stanford University measured all of the elastic properties of an intact spider's web, drawing a remarkable picture of the behavior of one of nature’s most intriguing structures.

Using a long-known-but-underutilized spectroscopy technique, known as Brillouin spectroscopy, the team led by Kristie Koski, a researcher in the Yi Cui Group in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University, could lead to new “bio-inspired” materials that improve upon nature.



Click on image to enlarge

Stanford post-doctoral scholar Kristie Koski developed a clever way to measure the elastic response of intact spider webs using a century-old spectroscopy technique that does not require physical contact with the silk. At left is an intact web and, on the right, a detail demonstrating the pinpoint accuracy of Koski's system. The portion of the web examined is on the right-center of the photo on the left. (Photo and illustration courtesy of Kristie Koski, Stanford University.)


At the same time, the researchers are able to shed some light on the mysteries of spider silk.

As fibers go, there’s never been anything quite like spider silk. Stretch it. Bend it. Soak it. Dry it out. Spider silk holds up. It is five times stronger than steel and can expand nearly a third greater than its original length and snap right back like new. Ounce-for-ounce spider silk is even stronger than Kevlar, the man-made fiber used in bulletproof vests.

It would be understandable to think that science knows all there is to know about the remarkable physics of spider silk, but the truth is far from that.

The Brillouin spectroscopy is a technique that shines laser light on the spider silks. The light produces sound waves in the silks, which, in turn, reflect some light back to the spectrometer. The researchers call the reflection “scattering.”

The complete elastic response of spider silk is described by five elastic constants that define how the web reacts to any possible combination of forces—pulling, twisting or shearing in any direction. All five have never been measured in a pristine spider web.

“My goal is to study the nanostructure of silk to understand not just how spider silk behaves as it does, but also why it behaves in such remarkable ways in hopes of someday creating better man-made fibers,” said Koski. “It is a bit like plucking the string of a violin, only we never have to physically touch the string to play it,” said Koski.



The spectrometer measures small variations in the scattered light to ascertain the underlying tension of the silk being measured. The power of Brillouin scattering rests in the gentle way it gathers data enabling in situ measurements on spider webs, including mechanical properties at precise spots on the web such as silk intersections and glue spots.

The result is that Koski and collaborators are the first to quantify the complete linear elastic response of spider webs, testing for subtle variations in tension among discrete fibers, junctions, and glue spots for every type of deformation possible. It is a remarkable picture of the behavior of one of nature’s most intriguing structures.

“The possibility of adjusting mechanical properties by simply adjusting water content is interesting from a bio-inspired mechanical structure perspective and could lead in interesting research directions as we try to invent new fibers,” said Koski.

The results of the study is described in the journal Nature Materials.

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See also:
These Plants Sense The Danger - They Know How To Avoid Predators!

Scientists Unravel The Mystery Of Spider Silk

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