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article imageResearchers unravel mysteries of spider silk

By Leigh Goessl     Jan 28, 2013 in Science
A group of researchers are enthusiastic over recent progress in discovering what makes spider silk so strong. Using a high-tech, but non-invasive, technique, scientists believe they are closer to uncovering the secrets behind the strength of spider silk.
Researchers have long been intrigued over the strength of spider silk, leading to the question, what is contained within its properties that makes it so strong? Scientists at Arizona State University are excited over their recent progress in attempts to discover the secrets of spider silk.
According to a news release from Arizona State University, scientists are on their way to understanding what the properties are within the fiber that spiders spin. Spider silk is known for its unique strength. Last year one researcher even made violin strings out of spider silk.
"Spider silk has a unique combination of mechanical strength and elasticity that make it one of the toughest materials we know," said Professor Jeffery Yarger of ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and lead researcher of the study, said in a press release. "This work represents the most complete understanding we have of the underlying mechanical properties of spider silks."
Biochemistry undergraduate researcher  Paul Akhenblit  obtaining samples in the lab.
Biochemistry undergraduate researcher, Paul Akhenblit, obtaining samples in the lab.
Jeffery Yarger
Arizona researchers used a "sophisticated but non-invasive" laser light scattering technique to learn more about spider silk. Called the Brillouin light scattering technique, it uses a very low powered laser, under 3.5 milliwatts. Using this technique, scientists were able to carefully study four different types of spider webs and take measurements.
"This information should help provide a blueprint for structural engineering of an abundant array of bio-inspired materials, such as precise materials engineering of synthetic fibers to create stronger, stretchier, and more elastic materials," explained Yarger. "This study is unique in that we can extract all the elastic properties of spider silk that cannot and have not been measured with conventional testing."
It is hoped that one day it can be used to help strengthen a variety of products ranging from bulletproof vests to artificial tendons, scientists said.
The paper, entitled "Non-invasive determination of the complete elastic moduli of spider silks", has been published in the online issue of Nature Materials.
Scientists have long been interested in spider silk and the remarkable strength of its fibers. Recently, Live Science reported that another group of researchers produced a nanotube fiber that mimicked spider silk.
Last year Italian and American scientists working together found what they described as the 'most stretchable' type of spider silk found to date. These samples were found in a cave located in Italy.
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