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Press Release 10-040

Spider Silk Reveals a Paradox of Super-strength

Research finds weakest chemical bonds produce materials stronger than steel

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Illustration showing the nanoscale structure of silks.

Rendering of the nanoscale structure of silks with beta-sheet nanocrystals shown in yellowish color (right), including a detailed view of the semi-amophous domains between the beta-sheet nanocrystals (left).

Credit: Figure courtesy M.J. Buehler (MIT)


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Image showing breaking mechanisms of silk nanocrystals as a function of crystal size.

Breaking mechanisms of silk nanocrystals, as a function of the size of the crystal are shown. The left part of the image shows a small crystal, which fails gracefully as a strand is being pulled out. The larger crystal on the right fails catastrophically as a crack forms at the left part.

Credit: Figure courtesy M.J. Buehler (MIT)


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Image showing structure of silk.

Structure of silk: The yellowish regions are the key cross-linking domains in silk, beta-sheet crystals, which are only a few nanometers in size. The strength of silks is controlled by how much force these cross-linking domains can take. The research results show that the size of these crystals is absolutely essential for silk's high performance properties.

Credit: Spider web photograph courtesy Nicolas Demars. Figure courtesy M.J. Buehler (MIT)


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