Por Richard Alleyne
Spider silk research could lead to new super-materials
Making bricks from straw may soon be possible and even desirable after scientists found spider silk could make ordinary materials stronger than steel.
Researchers found that spider silk employs a unique crystal structure that converts an otherwise weak material into one stronger and less brittle than steel or ceramics.
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.
Most man-made materials, in contrast, sacrifice strength for ductility. Ceramics, for instance, are strong yet brittle.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US, studied the fundamental properties of spider silk using computer models to simulate its structure.