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Spider Silk: Strong as Steel, Could Replace Kevlar

The UC Riverside biology professor (and MacArthur grant recipient) Cheryl Hayashi gave a TED talk Wednesday on the astonishing strength of spider...


The UC Riverside biology professor (and MacArthur grant recipient) Cheryl Hayashi gave a TED talk Wednesday on the astonishing strength of spider silk. Although some silks can be less than one tenth the diameter of a human hair, they can be stronger than steel. According to Hayashi, spider silk might one day supplant Kevlar as preferred armor for soldiers.The strongest silks are found in "draglines," from which a spider dangles while spinning its web; a black widow's silk is one of the most durable. As part of Wired's TED coverage, Kim Zetter spoke to Hayashi on the subject, asking why scientists haven't yet succeeded in replicating the stuff. Hayashi's reply:
When you watch the spider spin a web they pull it out with their leg - they touch a leg to the correct spinnerets and then they yank - it's sort of like a painter's palette you dab your brush into whatever color. So the idea of shooting out silk proteins through a syringe was that perhaps it was the narrow aperture and the force of pulling it was maybe all it took. You can get a fiber that way, but unfortunately it's thin and kind of brittle. So there's something about this whole machinery that the spider has that makes it into the fiber.
The rest of the interview contains great bits on how spider silk could have applications in surgeries, as well as what obstacles we currently face in regard to using it. Biomimicry is a source of endless fascination for me.
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