Monday, May 11, 2015

Warm Spinnerette

It is far from clear why these Italian researchers were seized with a whimsy -- or with a caprice, which is the same thing but in Italian -- to spray spiders with aqueous suspensions of graphene or carbon nanoducts. My own suspicion is that they were entering the arachnids in a gladiatorial tournament and thought to give them an unfair advantage over the spiders from other laboratories, by coating their exoskeletons with nanocarbon armourplate. Not that vile entertainments of this form ever occur at the Old Entomologist, on account of old fever-wracked Mauricio Santos-Lobos always winning.
Pugno and his colleagues captured five spiders from the Pholcidae family and sprayed them with a mixture of water and graphene particles 200 to 300 nanometres wide. They also sprayed another 10 spiders with carbon nanotubes and water to compare the effects of the two materials.
Spiders provide dwarves with Kevlar
jackets, where is the gratitude?
So the spiders managed to absorb the nanoplumbing somehow and secrete it as a component of their silk output, reinforcing the threads so they became comparable in strength to the gray, rope-thick reticulations of strands that bridge the bottomless chasm beneath Mount Vormithadreth, that are woven by the spider-god Atlach-Nacha.
Some spiders produced below-par silk, but others got a major boost. The best fibres came from a spider dosed with nanotubes: it was around 3.5 times as tough and strong as the best unaltered silk, spun by the giant riverine orb spider.
Bad luck, giant riverine orb spider Caerostris darwini!
This biotech breakthrough might conjure up mental images of giant genegineered spiders in Earth orbit, extruding the threads of a Space Elevator or Skyhook .
Right: Wrong Skyhook

Left: Space Elevator --
Athanasius Kircher design

This is unlikely to happen soon, however, partly because of the difficulty with designing vacuum apparel for giant spiders, but mainly because the concept is already locked up by a broadly-written patent on 'traversers' whose titanic webs link the Earth to the Trojan-point-locked Moon [Aldiss, 1962] and are capable of snagging starships.

Nevertheless, the Italian results raise some interesting possibilities, and here at Riddled Research Laboratories we are already spraying spiders with Teflon in the hope of that they will secrete it and fulfill the age-old dream of creating non-stick webs.
Airplane Traps
UPDATE: I missed the best part of the New Scientist transcription of the Italians' press release:
At this early stage it's not clear how such a material will be used, but one possibility is a giant net capable of catching falling aircraft, suggests Pugno.
This is an opportunity to link to a Bob Calvert track.

Back at the Riddled Research Laboratory we have been exposing spiders to hairspray to see if they spin livelier, bouncier, envolumnised webs, but results are not encouraging.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Non-stick webs that will survive many cycles of the dishwasher, he scoffed?

P.S. The web has no adhesive properties but the irregular structure traps insects, making escape difficult. The spider quickly envelops its prey with silk and then inflicts the fatal bite. The prey may be eaten immediately or stored for later.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

Have you tried spraying sheep with an extract of mint jelly, or are you taking it on the lamb?

rhwombat said...

Have you considered spraying The Web with financial offers from Nigerian Finance Ministers?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Just great, I can see myself now, getting decapitated by walking into a carbon-reinforced monofilament will walking the jobsite at night.

Frickin' spiders!