Spiders are creepy. 'Nuff said.
Okay, okay... Spiders are necessary and all that; blah, blah, blah Yippee! Spiders are kewl and humans drool and all that... Yeah, Yeah...
Graphene, on the other hand, is awesome! We have been reporting on Graphene and the related projects using said Graphene for years now. Graphene has the potential to be this "Super Material" that is useful in a vast range of disciplines.
Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy found that combining 300 nanometre-wide graphene particles or nanotubes with water, and spraying the solution onto arachnids, had surprising effects on their silk.
Through a process that is not yet entirely clear, some of the 15 Pholcidae spiders in the study created webs that where 3.5 times as tough as the best silk known to nature -- that of the giant riverine orb spider. It's also on a par with the other toughest material known to nature -- limpet teeth.
Some of the spiders in the study produced poorer-quality silk, reported Trento's professor of solid and structural mechanics Nicola Pugno, who led the study, but a significant number produced what can effectively be described as "super silk". "We find that the resulting silk has improved mechanical properties," Pungo writes in the study. "The highest toughness modulus for a fibre, surpassing synthetic polymeric high performance fibres (EG Kevlar 49TM 30) and even the current toughest knotted fibres."
Pugno is currently unsure exactly how the graphene, or its properties, became infused with the silk, reports New Scientist -- the experiment seems to have been largely speculative, and the results surprising. He supposes that the spiders might spin the materials into their webs as a mechanism for cleaning themselves.
"Spiders could spin graphene and nanotubes in the silk also as an efficient way of eliminating them from their organism," the study reports. "Spiders' natural and very efficient spinning can thus allow the collection of the most performing silk fibre when compared to synthetic recombinant silks, which represents the most promising silk material to be efficiently reinforced. This new reinforcing procedure could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of bionic materials for ultimate applications."
The exact uses for this material are obviously speculative at best. New Scientist reports Pugno believes it would be strong enough to catch a falling aeroplane -- but uses in fabrics or "bionic materials" are more likely. There are also problems with the process, such as the unfortunate fact that several of the spiders died shortly after being sprayed with the mixture.
Graphene is an atom-thick, manmade material, discovered in Manchester in 2004. Three million sheets of graphene stacked on top of each other would measure just 1mm in depth. A sheet just 1m square would weigh less than a gram, but support a weight of 4kg. As such it is extremely strong and light, and uses are being pursued in everything from revolutionary lightbulbs to batteries, displays and building materials.
The UK is attempting to take a leading role in graphene development, having already opened a National Graphene Institute at Manchester with £38m in government funding, where 200 researchers will develop uses and manufacturing techniques using the potential wonder material.