Spiders doused with carbon nanotubes spin super-silk

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May 6, 2015

What do you get when you douse a spider with graphene and carbon nanotubes, besides a pissed-off spider? You get science, the knowledge of the world through experimentation and observation, a rigorous study so awesome it should only be printed like this: SCIENCE!. Also, if you're Nicola Pugno, professor of solid and structural mechanics of the University of Trento, Italy, you get a super-strong spider silk.

According to New Scientist, Pugno, who likes to play fast and loose with the laws of god and man, captured 15 Pholcidae spiders and sprayed them with either plain old water; with graphene, a form of carbon that's one hundred times stronger than steel by weight; or with carbon nanotubes (graphene in cylindrical form).

Although some spiders produced "below par" silk, one doused in carbon nanotubes spun a silk that was 3.5 times stronger than the best silk known, courtesy of Caerostris darwini.

But here's where it gets tricksy:

The team isn't sure how the graphene and carbon nanotubes end up in the silk. One possibility is that the carbon coats the outside of the strands, but Pugno thinks that would not be enough to account for the increase in strength. Instead, he believes the spiders mop up materials in their environment and incorporate them into the silk as they spin. This comes at a cost, however – four of the spiders died soon after being sprayed.

The death of four spiders has not swayed Pugno in his quest for a natural-artificial material. New Scientist writes, "The team also plans to investigate other ways of producing bionic materials, such as dosing silkworms with artificial substances."

We wonder what would happen to us if we were bitten by such a spider. Graphene is a semi-conductor with multiple uses, such as a filtration system, a material in touch-screen electronics and a potential battery. We'll leave it to you in the comments to tell us the perfect graphene-based superpower.

(Via NewScientist)