(ORDO NEWS) — The next time you see a gossamer in the forest, think about it: it is so strong that one such thread, as thick as an adult, could withstand a jet liner!
Scientists struggled for a long time to solve this riddle and finally revealed the secret: it turned out that the whole thing is in the unique structure of the trapping web of spiders.
To find out why the web is five times stronger than steel, scientists studied the threads, which the poisonous spider Loxosceles reclusa produces to create trapping nets and receptacles for egg laying.
When bitten by this spider with incredibly long legs, a person develops loxoscelism – inflammation, and then gangrenous scabs from dying tissues at the site of the bite. The researchers carefully examined the web using an atomic microscope and found one surprising circumstance.
What the naked eye perceives as a single, thinnest thread (which is about 1000 times thinner than a human hair) is actually a dense “rope” woven from hundreds of nanofibers. The diameter of one such fiber is 20 millionths of a millimeter. Like modern cables, each strand of the web consists of parallel nanostructures at least 1 micron long.
Not a very long fiber, is it? This may seem so at first glance. However, if we look at the structure at the micro level, it turns out that the length of such a fiber can exceed the width by about 50 times – and the researchers are sure that they can be stretched even more.
The idea that the web is made up of nanofibers is not new and has been discussed many times in the scientific community. However, until now, researchers have not been able to provide proof that the nanoscopic filaments make up the entire web, rather than individual parts of it.
The “secret weapon” of scientists in this case was the unique properties of the web of Loxosceles reclusa. If most spiders spin cylindrical threads, then these webs are in fact flat, like a ribbon – this made it easier to study under a powerful microscope.
The new discovery builds on even earlier work the team published a year ago. Then the scientists found out that L. reclusa (they are also called “brown recluse spiders”) strengthen flat threads using a special weaving technique.
Like a living sewing machine, the spider weaves approximately 20 microloops into each millimeter of web. Such “stitches” strengthen the sticky trapping net and give it incredible strength.
The researchers say that even if the shape of the threads and the technique of weaving webs in other spiders differ, the new discovery could be a starting point for studying the natural fibers that other species produce.
For humanity, this information is extremely important – knowing how nature creates heavy-duty and very light threads, we ourselves will be able to create their synthetic counterparts. An artificial web would be useful everywhere, from the military and medical industries to ordinary textiles.
However, now it is extremely difficult to recreate such a fiber on an industrial scale, and no one has succeeded in this (although there were such attempts a couple of years ago ).
Scientists hope that further research will sooner or later put one of the most complex and unusual materials in the world at the service of mankind.
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