Creating lenses from spider silk

Spiders — what are they good for? The answer, it turns out, is more than just insect control.

Spider silk has various applications, including in biomedical applications. Now scientists at the Tamkang University and National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan have discovered one more use of spider silk.

As spider silk Mechanical properties superior to synthetic fibers for tissue engineering, the spider silk can be used to create lenses useful for biological imaging.

Scientists collected smooth, uniform dragline silk from Pholcus phalangioides spiders, commonly known as daddy longlegs, and dripped a resin onto the silk fiber. As the resin condensed on the fiber, the wetting properties of the silk naturally formed it into a dome shape, which they found could be used as an optical lens. The mechanical and optical properties of the silk also make it ideal for supporting the lens.

When they shined a laser onto the lens, it generated a high-quality photonic nanojet—a type of beam that can provide large-area, super-resolution imaging for biomedical applications. By tuning the length of time the silk spends under the resin drip, the size of the dome lens can be changed, allowing the photonic nanojets to be optimized for the desired type of imaging.

Cheng-Yang Liu, one of the authors on the study and a professor at National Yang-Ming University, said“The dome lens with flexible photonic nanojets is suitable for imaging the nanoscale objectives in different depths within biological tissue.”

After additional testing, scientists hope this type of spider silk-based lens can be used to deliver light for biological imaging and operation.

Journal Reference:
  1. Optimal photonic nanojet beam shaping by mesoscale dielectric dome lens,”Journal of Applied Physics (2020).DOI:10.1063/5.0007611

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