Simple yet efficient - spraying spiders with a graphene solution makes the arthropods spin webs with out of this world properties

Spiders sprayed with graphene weave superwebs

Spiders sprayed with graphene and carbon nanotubes can create a new type of super-fibre combining properties of one of the best nature’s material with the cutting edge man-made substance.

As reported by the New Scientist, researchers from the University of Trente, Italy, conducted an experiment in which they used fifteen spiders from the Pholcidae family and sprayed them with a mixture of water and graphene particles 200 to 300 nanometres wide or with carbon nanotubes.

Subsequently, they analysed the spiders’ webs and although they found the arthropods weren’t consistent in their performance, some of them wove webs of unprecedented mechanical properties.

“Spiders placed in an environment with water solutions of nanotubes or graphene produce dragline silk with unprecedented mechanical properties, realising the toughest achieved fibres, with strength only comparable with that of the strongest carbon fibres or that of the limpet teeth,” the researchers reported.

The best among the spiders, particularly those sprayed with carbon nanotubes, created fibres 3.5 times as tough and strong as the best unaltered silk made by the giant riverine orb spider. The scientists said knots could further increase toughness of the material.

“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,” the team led by scientist Nicola Pugno reported. “This new reinforcing procedure could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of bionic materials for ultimate applications.”

Researchers already knew spiders exposed to metals such as zinc, manganese or copper incorporate these substances into parts of their bodies, making them mechanically stronger. Past experiments with metals and spider silk rendered positive results but using the wonder material graphene took the technology to an entirely new level.

First isolated in 2003 by Manchester University researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, graphene, a one-atom thick layer of carbon, is known for its exceptional sturdiness and flexibility as well as electrical properties.

Widely considered the next big thing in electronics, graphene in combination with spider silk could pave the way for entirely new applications.

Pugno suggested such materials are strong in touch to be used, for example, to capture a falling aircraft.

The team plans a similar set of experiments with silkworms.

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