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Spiders teach scientists how to create a completely novel liquid-solid material

EU-funded scientists learn how to replicate a spider’s silk thread and its unique ability to always remain taut.

Look closely at an active spider’s web and you will notice that it always retains its shape. Even after trapping an insect, a spider’s orb web can reel in the stretched thread to regain the web’s tension. This phenomenon is something that has fascinated scientists for decades. The tiny and seemingly incredible forces of physics at work in a spider’s web were baffling; only now are scientists beginning to uncover the truth.

Fritz Vollrath, coordinator for the EU-funded SABIP (Silks as Biomimetic Ideals for Polymers) project has discovered that a web consists of both the silk spun by a spider and microscopic glue droplets that sit on the silk thread. These droplets are not made by the spider itself. Instead, the spider coats the thread with a thin layer of sticky material that then absorbs water from the atmosphere. The glue swells, becomes unstable, then it forms droplets, Vollrath explains.

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