Silkworms That Eat Graphene Spin Webbing As Strong As Spideys

first_img Spider Silk Could Be Used to Make Artificial MusclesSilkworms Engineered to Produce Spider Silk Stay on target Humans have been using silk to make fabrics for more than six thousands years. It’s already one of the strongest fibers around, but researchers have made it even stronger — and electrically conductive.A Chinese research team at Tsinghua University has discovered that by feeding silkworms a rather unique diet that the silk they produced can be transformed into something straight out of Peter Parker’s lab. It’s more than 50% stronger than ordinary silk, which is pretty impressive given that some silks have a tensile strength as high as 650MPa. That puts the team’s super silk right up there with materials like tungsten and steel.And when it’s heated to 1050°C, the carbonized silk becomes an excellent conductor of electricity. So what, exactly, do you feed a silkworm to get it to produce this miraculous new fiber? The same things you use to improve everything from lithium-ion batteries to solar cells.Graphene and carbon nanotubes. They tricked the silkworms into eating by spraying a coating onto the delicious mulberry leaves they love, sort of how parents hide the peas to get their kids to eat vegetables.Led by Dr. Yingying Zhang, the team believes that their super-silk has loads of potential applications. Among them: biomedical implants, smart fabrics, and highly-efficient indoor solar cells.There’s also plenty of confidence that the production process can be scaled up rather easily… provided that someone else can produce enough graphene and carbon nanotubes for the silkworms to eat. It doesn’t take much, though. Amazingly, the spray only contains .2% of the stuff by weight.Image courtesy Wikimedia Commonslast_img read more