Popular Science

Black widow spiders could teach nanomaterial experts a thing or two

Scientists are finally unspooling how spider silk works.
A black widow hangs from three threads.

Black widows spin some of the strongest strands of all the spiders, so researchers zapped its silk fluid with an electron beam to see what it was made of.

It appears that spiders beat us to the age of nanomaterials by about 300 million years, spinning nanoparticles into strong yet stretchy threads far beyond our modern manufacturing capabilities. But now we’re trying to catch up, studying their secrets using advanced technology of our own.

Spider silk starts off as a soupy mixture somewhere between a liquid and materials in nature at room temperature and without any fancy machinery.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Popular Science

Popular Science4 min read
These Plants Bring All The Birds To Your Yard
Carolina chickadees depend on the availability of high-calorie, high-protein prey, such as caterpillars, for a healthy breeding season. Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware Like songbirds? Right, many people do. It’s a different story when it comes t
Popular Science3 min read
Blow Flies Help Us Solve Murders—but Climate Change Is Forcing Them Out
A chrysomya megacephala, commonly known as a blow fly. Muhammad Mahdi Karim Climate change has spurred the spread of invasive insects that devour crops, destroy homes, and spread disease. Now, rising temperatures are driving cadaver-eating blow flies
Popular Science3 min readTech
Not All Twitter Bots Are Bad
All my friends are bots. Eleanor Cummins and her incredible screenshotting abilities Twitter is cracking down on bots. A fundamental part of the social media platform’s appeal, these automated accounts provide information—and comedy and artistry—in w