Non-Toxic Method for 'Spinning' Super-Strong, Artificial Spider Silk
Spider silk is one of nature's strongest materials, and scientists have been attempting to mimic its properties for a range of applications, with varying degrees of success. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have now designed a super stretchy, strong, and sustainable material that mimics the qualities of spider silk - 'spun' from a material that is 98% water. It could be used to make textiles, sensors, and other materials. The fibers, which resemble miniature bungee cords as they can absorb large amounts of energy, are non-toxic, and can be made at room temperature. The method improves upon earlier methods of making synthetic spider silk because it does not require high-energy procedures or extensive use of harmful solvents, and it could substantially improve methods of making synthetic fibers of all kinds, since many types of synthetic fibers also rely on high-energy, toxic methods. The new fibers are made from a hydrogel, which is 98% water. The remaining 2% of the hydrogel is made of silica and cellulose, both naturally available materials, held together in a network by barrel-shaped molecular 'handcuffs' known as cucurbiturils. The chemical interactions between the different components enable long fibers to be pulled from the gel.