A team of architects and chemists from the University of Cambridge has designed a super stretchy, strong and sustainable material that imitate the qualities of spider silk, and is ‘spum’ from a hydrogel that is 98 percent water. This fiber could be used to make textiles, sensors and other materials.
Although, spider silk is considered nature’s strongest materials. Various scientists have attempted to make materials that mimic its properties by making the artificial spider silk for a range of applications, with varying degrees of success.
This newly developed method not only improves upon earlier methods of making artificial spider silk, but it could also substantially improve methods of making synthetic fibers of all kinds.
Co-author Dr. Darshil Shah from Cambridge’s Department of Architecture said, “We have yet to fully recreate the elegance with which spiders spin silk. This method of making fibers could be a sustainable alternative to current manufacturing methods.”
The fibers designed by the scientists look like fine bungee cords. It is because the design of fiber it can able to absorb a large amount of energy. In addition, they are sustainable, non-toxic and can be made at room temperature. Meanwhile, the fibers hold the potential of assembling themselves at room temperature.
As it made from hydrogel (98% water and 2% silica and cellulose), it holds the molecules in a network by Cucurbiturils. The chemical reaction between the components enables fibers to be pulled from the gel, forming long, extremely thin threads. After roughly 30 seconds, the water evaporates, leaving a fiber which is both strong and stretchy.
Shah said, “Although our fibers are not as strong as the strongest spider silks, they can support stresses in the range of 100 to 150 megapascals, which is similar to other synthetic and natural silks.”
Yuchao Wu, a Ph.D. student in Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry said, “When you look at these fibers, you can see a range of different forces holding them together at different scales. It’s like a hierarchy that results in a complex combination of properties.”
While experiments, the fibers showed very high damping capacity, which researchers noted more special characteristics of artificial spider silk. Means, they can absorb large amounts of energy like a bungee cord.
Shah said, “We think that this method of making fibers could be a sustainable alternative to current manufacturing methods.”
The result of that research is reported in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.