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Brief Published: 2 Sep 2016

Spider Silk: Ultra Strength, Sound & Vision

Engineered spider silk

Researchers are racing to produce the first line of commercially available synthetic spider silk, which scientists believe could revolutionise artificial fibre production, due to its extraordinary high tensile strength, flexibility and tactility. We highlight new synthetic and natural spider silk discoveries for use in audio equipment, apparel and microscopes. 

  • Spider Silk Audio: An international team of scientists at Rice University in Europe and Singapore has discovered promising properties in spider silk for potential use in audio and heat insulation. New research shows that the material has the ability to block certain sound frequencies due to its phonon band gap. It could therefore be applied to speakers as a type of audio filter. With further adjustment, the silk could also be made to act as a heat insulator, similar to thermal-material, for use in heat-retaining apparel.

  • Spider Silk Apparel: Japanese company Spiber and California-based start-up Bolt Threads have both produced protein-based synthetic spider silk at a pilot scale, and are working towards scaling-up production for the consumer market at an affordable cost. Earlier this year, Bolt Threads announced a partnership with California-based sustainable outerwear company Patagonia to create a line of outerwear for release in 2018. Spiber has already made a limited-edition spider silk parka for performance clothing brand The North Face – read more about this product in Honed Synthetics.

  • Biomimetic Microscope: Scientists at Bangor and Oxford universities in the UK have created the first microscopic lens using spider silk. When expanded, the natural cylindrical structures of the material (which measure approximately one tenth of a human hair) provide 2-3 times greater magnification than a traditional microscope, similar to looking through a cylindrical glass. While this development has only been applied to microscopes, it has the potential for future use in camera lenses.

See also Biomimetic Material Innovations, Biomimicry in Design, Direct from Nature, and Spider Silk Implants.