Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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23-Apr-2009

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Spiderman's silk secret revealed?



Adding small amounts of certain metals to spider silk makes the silk even more resistant to breaking, researchers report. In its natural form, spider silk is already tougher and lighter than steel, so that's a pretty impressive improvement.

This method may be useful for making super-tough textiles, surgical thread, or artificial tissues such as bones, tendons and arterial walls, according to researcher Seung-Mo Lee Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany and his colleagues.

In some organisms, body parts such as jaws, stingers or claws contain tiny amounts of metals, making the materials remarkably stiff and hard. To see if they could achieve a similar effect, Lee's team used a process called "atomic layer deposition" to coat soft spider dragline silks with zinc, titanium or aluminum.

The metal ions formed a coating along the fibers' surface, and some of the ions penetrated the fibers and reacted with the silk's protein structure. This process drastically enhanced the amount of work required to break the fibers.

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This research appears in the 24 April issue of the journal Science.