Liquid Wire Material Inspired By Spider Silk

Scientists have come up with a new material inspired by spider silk, which is famous for its toughness under stretching.

Everyone has marveled at the intricacy of spider’s webs, and the incredible strength of the silk they are made from. The material is famous for its strength even when you stretch it, writes Katrina Pascual for Tech Times.

Spider silk inspires futuristic new material

Scientists have developed a liquid wire material that is inspired by natural spider silk. It could be incredibly useful in areas such as soft robotics and biotechnology.

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A team of researchers from the University of Oxford and Marie Curie University in France looked into the so-called “capture silk” used by spiders. This sticky silk is used for the spiral section of the web, rather than the radial spokes which hold the web together.

The researchers discovered that the silk stretched like a spring, however it stayed taut when compressed. Other kinds of threads usually sag in the middle after this kind of stretching.

“You can go up to 95 per cent and it remains taut, it seems to adapt its length. We know of materials that behave like this, but these are not solids, they are liquids,” said study author Arnaud Antkowiak in a New Scientist report.

Myriad applications for new technology

This remarkable property of capture silk means that it effectively adapts its size to the space that needs to be filled. Another similar phenomenon can be observed in soap film suspended between two walls, which contracts as the walls are moved closer together and breaks when they are separated.

Scientists believe that the properties are caused by a dual nature which means that the spiral silk is a hybrid material between solid and liquid. Spider silk is comprised of filaments coated in tiny glue droplets. The filament buckles when the silk is compressed, spooling around the droplets to maintain the tautness of the thread.

Researchers used plastic filaments coated with liquids such as silicon oil to mimic the behavior. In doing so they were able to produce a “liquid wire” which behaves in the same way as spiders’ webs.

Medicine, engineering and material science stand to benefit

The team were able to produce composite fibers in the laboratory which extended like a solid and compressed like a liquid. The finds could have major benefits for new technology inspired by nature.

“These new insights could lead to a wide range of applications, such as microfabrication of complex structures, reversible micro-motors, or self-tensioned stretchable systems,” explained first author Dr. Herve Elettro. He says that many different components could be used to make these hybrid threads.

Extensive research has been carried out into many different liquids and materials. The team found that practically every filament enclosed in any droplet was able to coil, buckle and spool given that the capillary force of the drop was more than the threshold for the buckling of the thread.

Researchers have been aware of the amazing properties of spider silk for a long time, but only recently have we worked out how to apply these properties to other fields. There are plenty of potential uses for the technology, including medicine, engineering and material science.

The full findings of the study can be found in the PNAS journal. It may be a while before we see these materials used in commercial products, but the potential is huge.