Tiny Tech #21: The Amazing Spider….Silk

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

The plastic items we know so well are made of polymers, materials consisting of simple repeating units of particular chemicals. As it turns out, nature is a brilliant polymer chemist. There is a polymer that is stronger than steel and conducts heat like a metal. You might be surprised to know this polymer is being synthesized every day right in your own backyard…by spiders!

Spiders make several kinds of silk polymers, but the dragline silk they produce as the main supporting structure for their webs can bear 3 times as much stress as stainless steel before it breaks! Scientists have studied why spider silk is so strong and the results could someday allow the development of artificial ligaments and tendons, or even tiny sutures for brain surgery. But, spider silk isn't just strong. It is also capable of conducting heat better than copper, without conducting electricity. This property could set the stage for new environmentally friendly heat dissipating parts for electronics.

So, the next time you see a big spider weaving its web, don't just shriek and run away. Take a moment to think about why great materials scientists can have eight legs.

Tiny Tech is made possible by the National Science Foundation and WUFT.  To learn more about Tiny Tech, go to tinytechradio.org.

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