Spider silk has long been noted for its graceful structure, as well as its advanced material properties: Ounce for ounce, it is stronger than steel. MIT research has explained some of the material’s mysteries, which could help design synthetic resources that mimic the extraordinary properties of natural silk. Now, scientists at MIT have developed a systematic approach to research its structure, blending computational modeling and mechanical analysis to 3D-print synthetic spider webs. These models offer insight into how spiders optimize their own webs.
“This is the first methodical exploration of its kind,” says Professor Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), and the lead author of a paper appearing this week in Nature Communications. “We are looking to expand our knowledge of the function of natural webs in a systematic and repeatable manner.”
Coupling multiscale modeling with emerging microscale 3D-printing techniques, the team enabled a pathway to directly fabricate and test synthetic web structures by design. The lessons learned through this approach may help harness spider silk’s strength for other uses, and ultimately inspire engineers to digitally design new structures and composites that are reliable and damage-resistant. Read more…