New Liquid Wire Material Inspired by Spider Silk

Posted on May 17, 2016

Liquid Wire Material

A new material developed by scientists is called liquid wire. It was inspired by the spider silk found in the web of an orb weaver. The scientists were inspired by how an orb web doesn't sag or collapse in the wind or catapult flies back out of the web like a trampoline.

The scientists note that if you pull a thread in a spider's orb web and let it snap back the thread never sags and remain taut. It will remain taut even if stretched many times its length. The scientists say this is because "any loose thread is immediately spooled inside the tiny droplets of watery glue that coat and surround the core gossamer fibres of the web's capture spiral."

The sscientists from the University of Oxford, UK and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France used this special behavior of spider silk to develop the liquid wire material. They created composite fibers in the laboratory which, just like the spider's capture silk, extend like a solid and compress like a liquid.

Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University says in a statement, "The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider's orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly. Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs in our gardens."

The properties in the orb web threads observed and analyzed by the scientists rely on a subtle balance between fiber elasticity and droplet surface tension. The scientists were able to recreate this technique in the laboratory using oil droplets on a plastic filament. The artificial system behaves just like the spiders natural winch silk. Spools of filament reel and unreel inside the oil droplets as the thread is extended and contracted. Take a look:

A research paper on the material was published here in the journal, PNAS.

Photo: Oxford University