Spiders may hold key to high strength

Spider silk could help to turn ordinary wood into a super-material, research suggests.

The claim was made by scientists unravelling the secrets of spider silk, which is stronger and less brittle than steel.

Researchers found spiders are masters of nanotechnology, using a crystal structure to give their silk such unusual properties.

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They believe in future it may be possible to copy spider ingenuity to create new classes of materials that are both incredibly flexible and strong out of cheap, ordinary elements.

Theoretically, they could even be made from wood, straw or hemp, say the scientists.

Carbon-based materials made the same way would be even stronger than spider silk.

A key property of spider silk is its combination of strength and “ductility” – its ability to bend or stretch without breaking.

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Most man-made materials, in contrast, sacrifice strength for ductility. Ceramics, for instance, are strong yet brittle.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States studied the fundamental properties of spider silk using computer models and their research is published in the journal Nature Materials.

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