Mysteries of spider silk unravelled
Washington, Jan. 29: Scientists at Arizona State University are on the brink of understanding what makes the spider's spun fibre - weight for weight - at least five times as strong as piano wire.
They have found a way to obtain a wide variety of elastic properties of the silk of several intact spiders' webs using a sophisticated but non-invasive laser light scattering technique.
The Brillouin light scattering technique used an extremely low power laser, less than 3.5 milliwatts, which is significantly less than the average laser pointer.
Recording what happened to this laser beam as it passed through the intact spider webs enabled the researchers to spatially map the elastic stiffnesses of each web without deforming or disrupting it.
This non-invasive, non-contact measurement produced findings showing variations among discrete fibers, junctions and glue spots.
Four different types of spider's webs were studied. They included Nephila clavipes, A. aurantia, L. Hesperus the western black widow and P. viridans the green lynx spider, the only spider included that does not build a web for catching prey but has major silk elastic properties similar to those of the other species studied.
The group also investigated one of the most studied aspects of orb-weaving dragline spider silk, namely supercontraction, a property unique to silk.
Spider silk takes up water when exposed to high humidity. Absorbed water leads to shrinkage in an unrestrained fiber up to 50 percent shrinkage with 100 percent humidity in N. clavipes silk.
Their results are consistent with the hypothesis that supercontraction helps the spider tailor the properties of the silk during spinning.
This type of behavior, specifically adjusting mechanical properties by simply adjusting water content, is inspirational from a bio-inspired mechanical structure perspective.
The paper titled 'Non-invasive determination of the complete elastic moduli of spider silks' has been published in advanced online issue of Nature materials.