The webbing was near the strength of bulletproof kevlar
In a study published in August, scientists at the University of Trento, Italy added graphene and carbon nanotubes to a spider’s drinking water. The materials were then incorporated into the spider’s silk, in turn producing a silk whose toughness is “significantly higher than the toughest spider silks found in nature.”
The team, led by Nicola Pugno, found that not only was it tougher, but it produced other properties, such as magnetism or electrical conductivity.
“This type of reinforcement or functionalization could further make silk potentially attractive for a wide range of applications, from garment textiles, to sensing devices, from medical applications, such as suture threads, or tissue regeneration materials, to defence applications such as flak jackets, currently limited by the silk large deformability,” Pugno went on to say.
The spiders were not able to continue spinning the enhanced silk without a consistent diet of the graphene/carbon nanotubes, which might serve as some relief for arachnophobes and Peter Parker’s enemies.
“It is among the best spun polymer fibres in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibres such as Kevlar,” Pugno said.
This finding could open the way for similar kinds of enhancements of other animals, Pugno believes. Graphene’s versatility is yet again attested by this study, encouraging future scientific — and hopefully societally beneficial — applications.
“Our proof-of-concept experiment paves the way to exploiting the naturally efficient spider spinning process to produce reinforced silk fibres, thus further improving one of the most promising silk materials, as compared to synthetic recombinant silks.”