You may have heard the hype. It jumps into the news every now again, when they are short of death and scandals to report on. Spider silk is supposedly this wonder material that scientists are trying to recreate in a lab. And that’s pretty much true. I just wanted to highlight one of the common misconceptions.
Silk is a natural protein spun into fibres for use outside the body. Natural silk is produced by arthropods for protection, capturing prey, reproduction, and many other uses. As such, it must be able to function in many extreme conditions such as heat, cold, damp, and under high forces. Compared to synthetic fibres, natural silk exhibits far superior mechanical properties due to their highly hierarchical layered structures.
Yeah yeah whatever Dan. Just tell me- can spider silk stop a bullet?
Yes. However it will stop the bullet about a metre behind you, which is about as useful as a chocolate teacup. You see it is remarkably strong stuff, but also remarkably stretchy. This is one of the many properties that scientists and engineers would look to control when synthesising their own version of silk. But there is still a long way to go before we can produce anything nearly as good as a spider can. So that’s why for now, you’d still rather be wrapped in Kevlar than some spider web.