The Amazing Spider Silk
Spider silk is incredibly strong and flexible, with five times the tensile strength of steel and triple that of the best man-made fibres, but these properties have yet to be replicated artificially—even by fibres produced from pure spider silk proteins. The silk’s protein molecules are long chains consisting of thousands of amino-acid elements, and the interlinking of these chains is how such stable and elastic fibres are created. However, scienctists still don’t understand how the proteins within the silk gland are linked and deployed—they’re thought to have a special storage configuration. Artificially producing spider silk would create enormous engineering possibilities—its ability to sustain selective damage without compromising the entire system could be applied to virtual networks, and its microscopic protein structures could help in stringing together carbon nanotubes. While we’re waiting for science to help us become Spiderman, a group of designers in Austria have created an artistic artificial version of a spider web—made out of 35 km worth of packing tape. The art installation is known as “For Use”, and the cocoons of tape stretched through midair are strong enough for visitors to climb inside and explore—luckily, without becoming ensnared.