How to improve nature and make superstrong materials

Silk reinforced with carbon nanotubes or graphene flakes

What is silk?

You have probably heard the word silk many times, but have you ever wondered what it really is? Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by certain insects, most of which is used by textile industry for very smooth and luxurious fabrics. It may surprise you however that certain types of silk can be stronger by steel. Impressive mechanical properties of silk come very handy for spiders to catch their prey.

The problem and the possible solution

Although it is relatively easy to cultivate silkworms to produce silk, the strongest types of silk are produced by spiders, which are really hard to farm and prefer to keep the silk for themself. Scientists from Tsinghua University found out that we can leave the spiders alone, but instead reinforce the silk produced by silkworms. The insects were fed with leaves precoated with single-wall carbon nanotubes or graphene, which resulted in incorporation of carbon nanostuctures into the as-spun silk fibers. Such composite had better crystalline structure and more than 50% higher tolerance to stress to breaking. Due to excellent mechanical properties, such composite is a good candidate to be a part of superstrong lightweight body armor.

Read more: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03597?source=cen