Nav: Home

Tough stuff: Spider silk enhanced with graphene-based materials

September 13, 2017

Researchers from the Graphene Flagship have demonstrated that graphene-based materials can be used to boost the properties of spider's silk. The silk - produced naturally by the spiders, incorporating graphene and carbon nanotubes (rolled up graphene sheets) introduced in their environment - had enhanced mechanical properties of up to three times the strength and ten times the toughness of the unmodified silks. The work is published in 2D Materials and was a collaboration between the University of Trento, Italy and the Cambridge Graphene Centre at the University of Cambridge, UK, within the Graphene Flagship's Polymer Composites Work Package.

Artificially modified biological materials are an expanding area of research. Natural materials can have properties that cannot be achieved with lab-produced materials, and taking inspiration from nature is an effective research tool

To enhance the spider's silk, the researchers prepared solutions of graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) which were sprayed within the enclosure the spiders were kept in. After allowing the spiders to ingest the graphene and CNT dispersions from their environment, silk was collected from the spiders and tested for graphene/CNT content and mechanical properties.

The silks showed enhanced mechanical properties compared to reference silks collected from the same spiders, with significant increases in the strength, toughness and elasticity of the biocomposite silk threads. The strongest silk threads had a fracture strength of up to 5.4 GPa, over 3 times as strong as the unmodified silks, as well as a tenfold increase of toughness modulus up to 2.1 GPa.

This study opens up new potentials for tailoring the properties of biological materials to enhance their properties for use in novel applications. For example, these artificially modified silks could find use in high-performance or biodegradable textiles such as parachutes or medical dressings.

"Humans have used silkworm silks widely for thousands of years, but recently research has focussed on spider silk, as it has promising mechanical properties. It is among the best spun polymer fibres in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibres such as Kevlar," said Nicola Pugno, of the University of Trento.

"We already know that there are biominerals present in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles and teeth, for example. So our study looked at whether spider silk's properties could be 'enhanced' by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk's biological protein structures," said Pugno.

"This is the highest fibre toughness reported to date, and a strength comparable to that of the strongest carbon fibres or limpet teeth," said Pugno. "These are still early days, but our results are a proof of concept that paves the way to exploiting the naturally efficient spider spinning process to produce reinforced bionic silk fibres, thus further improving one of the most promising strong materials."

-end-

Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship, and Chair of the Flagship's management panel, added "The interaction between graphene and related materials and bio-materials is key to broaden their possible applications. This is one of many examples showing potential in this area. This work can help us to design novel composites with enhanced properties, taking inspiration from nature"

Graphene Flagship

Related Graphene Articles:

New chemical method could revolutionize graphene
University of Illinois at Chicago scientists have discovered a new chemical method that enables graphene to be incorporated into a wide range of applications while maintaining its ultra-fast electronics.
Searching beyond graphene for new wonder materials
Graphene, the two-dimensional, ultra lightweight and super-strong carbon film, has been hailed as a wonder material since its discovery in 2004.
New method of characterizing graphene
Scientists have developed a new method of characterizing graphene's properties without applying disruptive electrical contacts, allowing them to investigate both the resistance and quantum capacitance of graphene and other two-dimensional materials.
Chemically tailored graphene
Graphene is considered as one of the most promising new materials.
Beyond graphene: Advances make reduced graphene oxide electronics feasible
Researchers have developed a technique for converting positively charged (p-type) reduced graphene oxide (rGO) into negatively charged (n-type) rGO, creating a layered material that can be used to develop rGO-based transistors for use in electronic devices.
The Graphene 2017 Conference connects Barcelona with the international graphene-based industry
This prestigious Conference to be held at the Barcelona International Convention Centre (March 28-31) aims to bring together academia and industry to integrate new graphene technologies into practical applications.
Graphene from soybeans
A breakthrough by CSIRO-led scientists has made the world's strongest material more commercially viable, thanks to the humble soybean.
First use of graphene to detect cancer cells
By interfacing brain cells onto graphene, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have shown they can differentiate a single hyperactive cancerous cell from a normal cell, pointing the way to developing a simple, noninvasive tool for early cancer diagnosis.
Development of graphene microwave photodetector
DGIST developed cryogenic microwave photodetector which is able to detect 100,000 times smaller light energy compared to the existing photedetectors.
Adding hydrogen to graphene
IBS researchers report a fundamental study of how graphene is hydrogenated.

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Oliver Sipple
One morning, Oliver Sipple went out for a walk. A couple hours later, to his own surprise, he saved the life of the President of the United States. But in the days that followed, Sipple's split-second act of heroism turned into a rationale for making his personal life into political opportunity. What happens next makes us wonder what a moment, or a movement, or a whole society can demand of one person. And how much is too much?  Through newly unearthed archival tape, we hear Sipple himself grapple with some of the most vexing topics of his day and ours - privacy, identity, the freedom of the press - not to mention the bonds of family and friendship.  Reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte. Produced by Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte. Special thanks to Jerry Pritikin, Michael Yamashita, Stan Smith, Duffy Jennings; Ann Dolan, Megan Filly and Ginale Harris at the Superior Court of San Francisco; Leah Gracik, Karyn Hunt, Jesse Hamlin, The San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, Mike Amico, Jennifer Vanasco and Joey Plaster. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Future Consequences
From data collection to gene editing to AI, what we once considered science fiction is now becoming reality. This hour, TED speakers explore the future consequences of our present actions. Guests include designer Anab Jain, futurist Juan Enriquez, biologist Paul Knoepfler, and neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.