Scientists from the University of Cambridge have developed super-stretchy and strong artificial (synthetic) spider silk, almost entirely composed of water.
The synthetic spider silk mimics properties of spider silk, one of nature’s strongest materials for a range of applications such as making eco-friendly textiles and sensors.
The fibres of the synthetic spider silk are spun from hydrogel, a soupy material which is 98% water. The remaining 2% of the hydrogel is made of naturally available silica and cellulose. These materials are held together in a network by barrel-shaped molecular “handcuffs” known as cucurbiturils. The chemical interactions between the different components enable to pull long fibres from the gel. The water from hydrogel evaporates after it is stretched for 30 seconds, leaving a strong fibre which is both strong and stretchy.
The fibres of the synthetic spider silk are extremely thin threads and are of few millionths of a metre in diameter. They resemble miniature bungee cords and can absorb large amounts of energy. They are sustainable, non-toxic, less energy-intensive and can be made at room temperature.
The fibres are capable of self-assembly at room temperature, and are held together by supramolecular host, where atoms share electrons. They can support stresses in the range of 100 to 150 megapascals, which is similar to other synthetic and natural silks.