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Press Release 12-016
A Spider Web's Strength Lies in More Than its Silk

Sacrificial beams and stress-dependent materials--concepts of interest to modern engineering--are critical in keeping webs strong

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This image shows how a spider web responds to stress, from web scale to the scale of proteins.

This hierarchical depiction shows how a spider web responds to stress, spanning from the web scale to the scale of protein molecules only nanometers, or billionths of a meter, across. When a force strikes the web, such as that from a trapped fly, the web deforms in distinct ways at multiple scales yet fails only where silk threads are under the most stress. The web manages that feat because of slipping that takes place within the spider-silk protein molecules. The result is compensation for some stress, yet sacrificial failure when stress becomes extreme, preserving the web as a whole.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation, in collaboration with S. Cranford, G. Bratzel and M.J. Buehler (all three from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rihcard C. Yu and Andaluz Yu of Green Pacific Biologicals


Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (1 MB)

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Markus Buehler of MIT explains how spider webs survive frequent assaults without failing--and how the silk is only part of the answer.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Images Courtesy of: Zina Deretsky, Nature, Markus Buehler

 

Animated model of deformation and breaking of a spider web under extreme stresses. The model is based on web-silk behaviors at a scale down to the molecular level.

Credit: S. Cranford and M.J. Buehler/MIT

 

Animation of vibrations and deformation of a spider web subjected to mechanical forces. The model is based on web-silk behaviors at a scale down to the molecular level.

Credit: S. Cranford and M.J. Buehler/MIT

 

Illustrations of spider silk with and without stress.

The top illustration shows a detailed view of the molecular structure of spider silk in its natural state, without mechanical load applied, showing the characteristic composite of a semi-amorphous protein phase (thin, wiggly lines) and beta-sheet nanocrystals (thick yellow lines). The bottom illustration shows a detailed view of the molecular structure of silk under extreme stress, showing how the protein chains unwind under stretch and eventually give way to deformation.

Credit: Credit: M.J. Buehler and G. Bratzel/MIT


Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (101 KB)

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Spider silk blueprints.

Blueprints of the multi-scale material structure of spider silk, from the molecular to the macroscopic scale.

Credit: S. Cranford and M.J. Buehler/MIT


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