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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Imitation spider silk

by Manny I. Fox Morone
October 27, 2020

A swirl of silver and brown in a vaguely strandlike shape.
Credit: Submitted by Yanjun Liu

First artificial leather, then faux fur. Today many researchers are trying to make synthetic spider silk. The silk that spiders spew from their spinnerets has special properties, like high strength and stretchability that could be useful in applications like shock-absorption. But it’s tough to replicate the complex structure of silk fibers that spiders create effortlessly. Spider silk consists of a series of proteins strung together into long chains and a larger skin encasing those protein fibrils. Instead of fiddling with proteins, Yanjun Liu, a doctoral student at Fudan University, is trying to imitate that core-skin structure with these fibers made out of an ethylene–vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer. By drawing the fibers while the polymer is hot (95 °C) and then quenching them in ice water, the fibers’ outer skin becomes wrinkly and more pliable while the inner core remains elastic just like the skin and core in natural spider silk. Liu thinks the strength of his fibers—about as strong as and even stretchier than spider silk—are a result of this structure.

Submitted by Yanjun Liu

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