Spider Webs and Biomimetics

Do you like the feeling of taking a stroll and being surprised by a spider web in your face or on your arms? Me neither. Be glad that the strands are so small, because if they were about the diameter of a garden hose, they would not only stop you and the horse you rode in on, but some commercial jets as well!

Spider silk is proportionally one of the strongest things in the world
Credit: Unsplash / RĂºben Marques
On television shows and movies, you may have seen someone get shot but the vest stops the bullet. When realism is intact, the recipient is often knocked down and injured. Again in proportion, if spider web strands were larger and could be used in this way, they would be stronger than man-made fibers for bullet-stopping power.


Scientists have been puzzled by spider webs, including how they get stronger after being stressed, and that these clever arachnids have different kinds of webbing for different purposes. The study of creatures and such in nature for use in human applications is called biomimetics or biomimicry. Our Creator has given us many things to consider, but naturalists wrongly give Darwin the credit for the things we try to imitate. Spiders have given scientists a great deal to think about, and they still have a long way to go.
Spider silk owes its amazing strength and elasticity to its ‘complexity that makes synthetic fibres seem crude.’ Man-made fibres are usually just simple strands of material, but a silk fibre has a core surrounded by concentric layers of nanofibrils (tiny threads). Some layers contain nanofibrils aligned parallel to the axis, while other layers contain nanofibrils coiling like a spiral staircase. The coiled ones allow the silk to be stretched, because they simply straighten up rather than break.

The nanofibrils themselves are very complicated, containing tiny protein crystals in an amorphous (shapeless) matrix of tangled protein chains. These nanocrystals contain electrical charges that stop the chains from slipping, so providing strength, while the amorphous material is rubbery and allows the fibre to stretch.

To read the entire article, click on "God’s webspinners give chemists free lessons".