Spiderman-strength: Scientists feed graphene to silkworms to produce extra-durable fibres for hi-tec
Silkworms spin their delicate threads from silk protein produced in their salivary glands. Scientists have now discovered that feeding them carbon nanotubes and graphene reinforces the silk that the larvae produce, resulting in “Spiderman-strength” threads, Chemical & Engineering News has reported.
The discovery is an “easy way to produce high-strength silk fibers on a large scale,” materials scientist Yaopeng Zhang told the outlet.
The extra strong silk could be used in a variety of different ways including on protective fabrics, biodegradable medical implants and wearable electronics.
Researchers from Tsinghua University fed the worms mulberry leaves, their food of choice, sprayed with solutions containing 0.2 percent of carbon nanotubes or graphene.
They then collected the silk from their cocoons as is normal in the silk-making process.
It was found that, unlike regular silk, the beefed up version conducts electricity and can withstand at least 50 percent more stress before breaking.
The method is also simpler and more environmentally friendly than treating already spun silk.
Scientists still aren’t exactly sure how the silkworms incorporate the reinforcements into silk. Or how much of it actually makes it into the silk as opposed to being excreted or absorbed into other parts of the body.