Spider silk, and the intricate shapes of webs, demonstrate how knowing when to be soft and when to be rigid is at the core of its many functions: house, hunting tool, transportation aid.
A spider web provides its occupant with a home and a way to catch prey. It needs to stand up to pesky attackers and sometimes withstand hurricane-force winds. Using computer models of spider silk and experiments on the webs of common European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), Buehler and his team found a web’s unique skills come from its ability to react differently to different stress levels.
A light wind, for instance, softens the web, allowing it to lengthen but retain its overall structure. If a larger force is applied at a specific location, such as when a particular thread is poked, the silk becomes rigid and breaks.
Studying both the patterns of these webs and the molecular nature of what they are made of could aid everything from redundant network design to super-strong reactive materials like bullet-proof fabric.
Previously: Goat’s milk meets spider silk.
(via Wired Science)
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