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Graphene gives spiders super strength

Nice. Could do with a bit more graphene though, couldn't it?

Nice. Could do with a bit more graphene though, couldn’t it?

In what sounds worrying like the back-story of a comicbook super-villain, scientists from the University of Trente have discovered that spiders sprayed with graphene and carbon nanotubes make webs of unprecedented strength.

(Presumably you get one very angry spider too, but we’ll have to wait for a follow-up peer-reviewed paper to confirm that hunch.)

The scientists sprayed 15 spiders from the Pholcidae family with a mixture of water and graphene particles 200 to 300 nanometres wide or with carbon nanotubes. Although the spiders’ results weren’t consistent, they discovered that one of them wove webs up to 3.5 times as strong as the silk made by giant riverine orb spiders. That’s quite a big deal. Orb spider silk is the second strongest natural material (second to the teeth of mollusks, since you ask).

Previous experiments had found that spiders exposed to zinc, manganese or copper would absorb these into their bodies, making them mechanically stronger resulting in more robust webbing, but graphene takes these results to a whole new level.

“Spider natural and very efficient spinning can thus allow the collection of the most performing silk fibre when compared to synthetic recombinant silks, which represents the most promising silk material to be efficiently reinforced,” said Nicola Pugno, lead scientist on the project. “This new reinforcing procedure could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of bionic materials for ultimate applications.”

New Scientist postulates that the material could be used to create a giant net capable of catching falling aircrafts. We might need more than 15 spiders – especially as four didn’t survive the weaving of the first superweb. The next step for the scientists is repeating the process with silkworms…

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