Spiders sprayed with graphene make super-strong silk

spiders

Italian scientists sprayed spiders with water that contained a mixture of graphene flakes and carbon nanotubes -- and the spiders began producing silk that was, by some measures, six times stronger than before.

Very cool! And totally freaky. But by what mechanism did this transformation occur? It's unclear, as the New Scientist writes:
The team isn't sure how the graphene and carbon nanotubes end up in the silk. One possibility is that the carbon coats the outside of the strands, but Pugno thinks that would not be enough to account for the increase in strength. Instead, he believes the spiders mop up materials in their environment and incorporate them into the silk as they spin. This comes at a cost, however – four of the spiders died soon after being sprayed.

At this early stage it's not clear how such a material will be used, but one possibility is a giant net capable of catching falling aircraft, suggests Pugno. The team also plans to investigate other ways of producing bionic materials, such as dosing silkworms with artificial substances. "This concept could become a way to obtain materials with superior characteristics," he says.

(That CC-licensed photo of the Pholcidae spider courtesy alvaroreguly's Flickr stream!)