Have you ever wondered how Spider-Man managed to run around on his web without it ever breaking off and causing a fall? If we go by laws of physics, a spider’s web should ideally sag in strong wind or break on stretching. However, an international team of scientists from the University of Oxford and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, claim that spiders produce a hybrid material that makes their webs stay taut even when pulled back.
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According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), an American science journal, this is because any loose thread is immediately coiled inside the tiny droplets of watery glue that coat the core gossamer fibres of the web’s capture spiral.
These scientists examined this ‘liquid wire’ technique of the spider’s web and have used it to create composite fibres in the laboratory. They recreated this natural technique by using oil droplets on a plastic filament. The resulting fibre, too, was found to extend in a solid form and contract in a liquid form.
The properties that scientists are relying on to create this composite fibre works on a subtle balance between fibre elasticity and droplet surface tension.
“The thousands of tiny droplets of glue that cover the capture spiral of the spider's orb web do much more than make the silk sticky and catch the fly. Surprisingly, each drop packs enough punch in its watery skins to reel in loose bits of thread. And, this winching behaviour is used to excellent effect to keep the threads tight at all times, as we can all observe and test in the webs found in our gardens,” says Professor Fritz Vollrath, of the Oxford Silk Group in the Department of Zoology at the university, in an interview with Science Daily.
For the spider, the web is a high-tech trap guaranteeing it food and protection. But for human beings, it could mean much more. The replica of the liquid wire that the scientists are trying to create could have some extremely beneficial components that can be used in various sectors of the economy.
According to Dr Hervé Elettro, doctoral researcher at Institute Jean Le RondD'Alembert, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, the properties of the liquid wire will turn out to be a big boon to the worlds of materials, engineering and medicine in particular.
“Our bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from virtually any components. These new insights could lead to a wide range of applications, such as microfabrication of complex structures, reversible micro-motors or self-tensioned stretchable systems,” says Elettro.
A new era of innovation heralds in on the threshold and the answer could lie in something as tiny as the droplets found in the watery glue of a spider’s web.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)