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Dangerous spider spins deadly-strong silk

Dangerous spider spins deadly-...
Keep your distance – an American brown recluse spider
Keep your distance – an American brown recluse spider
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The spider adds loops to its silk, as it's being spun
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The spider adds loops to its silk, as it's being spun
Keep your distance – an American brown recluse spider
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Keep your distance – an American brown recluse spider

The American brown recluse spider is already known for being one of the most venomous arachnids on the planet. It turns out, however, that the spider also has unusually strong silk – stronger even than regular spider silk. Scientists from Oxford University and Virginia's College of William & Mary have recently discovered the secret of that strength, and they believe that it could have some practical applications … perhaps even in outer space.

There are actually two reasons why the brown recluse's silk is so strong. For one thing, the spider adds loops to it, as the silk is being spun. "The theory of knots adding strength is well proven," says William & Mary's Prof. Hannes Schniepp. "But adding loops to synthetic filaments always seems to lead to premature fiber failure."

The spider adds loops to its silk, as it's being spun
The spider adds loops to its silk, as it's being spun

That's where the silk's second unique characteristic comes in. Whereas regular spider silk is cross-sectionally round like string, the recluse's silk is flat like a nano-scale ribbon. This apparently makes it more flexible, keeping it from failing prematurely.

Using computer models, the researchers found that by adding even a single loop to a flat synthetic fiber, that fiber's strength was greatly increased. Adding more loops enhanced the effect even further.

"This right away suggests possible applications," says Oxford's Prof. Fritz Vollrath. "For example, carbon filaments could be looped to make them less brittle, and thus allow their use in novel impact-absorbing structures. One example would be spider-like webs of carbon filaments floating in outer space, to capture the drifting space debris that endangers astronaut lives and satellite integrity."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Material Horizons.

Source: Oxford University

5 comments
JackFisher
Hummm... I wonder if putting loops in my hair will stop it from falling Out? 😞
noteugene
Now if someone would construct thousands of columns so these spiders could drop, produce silk, then bind into super strong cables, we could build huge balloons (also built out of silk?) to lift spaceships about 11 miles or so above earths surface prior to firing the gas engines.....save millions of tons of gases used for launching...... Getting that high where the atmosphere starts to thin out, the spaceships could be built much smaller as that we wouldn't have to pre load with all that fuel. Lofting a small satellite would cost peanuts. Or we could go in the opposite direction, go much larger. It'd be cool to launch super sized telescopes, lenses about 40' - 50' in diameter. Ship out in thirds, computers could take the lines out. They say now we can only see to about 300 million yrs after the big bang. With telescopes this size, we might be able to see the beginning.
Bob Stuart
It really looks as if the loops let the tape straighten out by various increments. This would make it tougher, not stronger in ultimate tensile strength. The flat section makes adhesion easy. The river-spanning webs are still the strongest.
psiclone
So just make some nanobot spiders that spin out "silk" like this to adapt to various situations...like that kid that needs to jump out the window of a burning building into the "net."
Paul Faucher
Ummm, loops and bend tend to reduce the strength of fibers not increase it. You can look at strength efficiency for wire rope on a pulley, you will only achieve 100% when the rope is straight.