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MIT Labs Moves Ahead In Synthesizing Spider Silk 135

Posted by Zonk
from the spiderweave-cap-of-the-bear dept.
icepick72 writes in with a link to an ExtremeTech article on new methods for creating synthetic spider silk. This material, like lycra in many ways, has a number of unique properties. The MIT lab that created it is being monitored by military elements, keenly interested in applications of this material to front-line technologies. From the article: "The secret of spider silk's combined strength and flexibility, according to scientists, has to do with the arrangement of the nano-crystalline reinforcement of the silk as it is being produced--in other words, the way these tiny crystals are oriented towards (and adhere to) the stretchy protein. Emulating this process in a synthetic polymer, the MIT team focused on reinforcing solutions of commercial rubbery substance known as polyurethane elastomer with nano-sized clay platelets instead of simply heating and mixing the molten plastics with reinforcing agents."
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MIT Labs Moves Ahead In Synthesizing Spider Silk

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  • by peektwice (726616) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @03:18AM (#17700180)

    Scientists have previously suggested that a mere pencil-thick strand of silk could actually stop a Boeing 747 in mid flight.
    Sounds like "It can transmit the entire library of congress in less than a minute."
    If the author of TFA needs to dumb it down for him/herself, fine. But I wish they wouldn't assume that we all have a G.W.Bush I.Q.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by Lord Kano (13027)
      But I wish they wouldn't assume that we all have a G.W.Bush I.Q.

      Yeah really! Many of us are too smart to graduate from an Ivy League University and be elected President, twice.

      LK
      • I think the Douglas Adam's quote about power and presidents applies here :)
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by iminplaya (723125)
        Many of us are too smart to graduate from an Ivy League University and be elected President, twice.

        Yeah, and we all know how to hack into school records and voting machines, too. Daddy, I wanna be president :-Q~
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sarahbau (692647)

      Sounds like "It can transmit the entire library of congress in less than a minute."
      If the author of TFA needs to dumb it down for him/herself, fine. But I wish they wouldn't assume that we all have a G.W.Bush I.Q.

      I hate it when they say something like "as long as 4200 garbage trucks lined up end to end." Am I supposed to visualize that? How long is a garbage truck exactly? It would be much easier for me to understand the scale of something if they actually gave the size instead of trying to relate it in terms of something else.

      • by DJCacophony (832334) <v0dka@myg0[ ]om ['t.c' in gap]> on Sunday January 21, 2007 @04:17AM (#17700424) Homepage
        1. When you're trying to visualize something, it's easier to relate it to something you see often. Which do you see more often, 30 rulers lined end to end, or a garbage truck?

        2. Its easier to visualize less of something than more of something. Which is easier to visualize, a TV that is the height of 100,000 grains of sand, or a TV that is the width of a two-person sofa?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MindStalker (22827)
          Something like "a 1/4 mile" is much better in my opinion.
          • 30 rulers lined end to end, or a garbage truck?

            Something like "a 1/4 mile" is much better in my opinion.

            Now that is one big-assed garbage truck!

        • by dsanfte (443781)
          Most people drive, and will understand distances given in metres to something the length of their trip to the grocery store, or something. At least, that's what I do.

          (~2km to my store of choice, 100m to something closer with fewer choices). /I walk
      • by 91degrees (207121) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @07:20AM (#17701020) Journal
        It does depend. Something like "The size of a football pitch" is fine for indicating area. We all know roughly what that looks like. But all too often we see silly examples. Like that 747 example. Is that good? I've never tried stopping a 747 in mid flight. What sort of thickness would you need to lift a person or tow a car? I've seen climbing ropes and towing ropes so I have a frame of reference. And It's bad when there are too many. I've never seen 4200 garbage trucks.

        I remember reading that a particular hangar was "As tall as an olympic swimming pool on its end". This irritated me for two reasons.
        • I've never seen an olympic swimming pool on its end.
        • If you did that, the water would pour out.
        • So, you can neither imagine turning the swimming pool through 90o or that it's empty?
          • by 91degrees (207121)
            The second pont was just a silly joke.

            As for turning it through 90 degrees - no. I couldn't picture that. Without looking up measurements, what size building would you say is the same sort of size?
        • by sarahbau (692647)

          It does depend. Something like "The size of a football pitch" is fine for indicating area. We all know roughly what that looks like.

          Actually I have no idea how big that is. I had to Google "football pitch" to even find out that it is a soccer field. This is another annoyance. When they do this, they assume that everyone in the world knows how big something is. Sports balls are some of the most common things they compare to - the size of a baseball, the size of a softball, the size of a football. Is that an American football, or what the rest of the world calls a football? I'm sure there are people in other countries who don't know how

          • by 91degrees (207121)
            Well, okay. I made the mistake of assuming that the term "pitch" for a sports field made sense in the US. But an American football field and a soccer field are about the same size and accurate enough for indicating size to most people of a certain nation. But you raise a good point. With national specific items, I agree with you. The size of a quarter is something that is known to all Americans, but not really a good indicator outside. But is 10cm really a useful size? I'm sure most Americans and mo
            • by joto (134244)

              But is 10cm really a useful size?

              Well, it's embarassingly short if we're talking about a dick. But size doesn't matter, right?

              I'm sure most Americans and most British people over the age of 50 aren't going to have any idea.

              But they do have an idea of the tensile strength of a rope needed to stop a Boeing 747 in mid flight? At least with 10 cm, they can divide it by 2.54 cm/inch, and get the result in inches.

              Most Europens will probably struggle with 4 inches

              Most europeans know that an inch is abou

    • by Divebus (860563) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @04:18AM (#17700430)

      ...a mere pencil-thick strand of silk could actually stop a Boeing 747 in mid flight

      Ohhh... this stuff would make fabulous condoms. They could recover the entire R&D budget in three weekends.

      • by davester666 (731373) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @05:33AM (#17700636) Journal
        But less friction is involved with stopping a 747...
      • by eMbry00s (952989)
        I'm not so sure about that. I would imagine many people's feelings go along the lines of SPIDER SILK ON MY PENIS OH MY GOD
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man!"
      • my hunter just got a pattern for an armor that requires spider silk. I wonder if I could use the spider silk, and if so, how long it'll take for the synthetic stuff to make it to Warcraft?
      • by Lord Kano (13027)
        Ohhh... this stuff would make fabulous condoms. They could recover the entire R&D budget in three weekends.

        Maybe you have no problem wrapping your penis in a material strong enough to liquify it, but I don't think that most of the rest of us would be quite so willing to risk it.

        LK
        • by spun (1352)
          From reading the wikipedia articles on snow [wikipedia.org], it seems that relativly high temperature, as well as cold temperature snow forms the familiar plate and dendrite shapes. Snow that forms between -5C and -10C takes the shape of needles or hollow columns. What you are seeing there is a snowflake that formed as a hollow column, then entered either a warmer a colder zone where the traditional dendritic plate shapes formed at the end of the hollow column.

          Here's an even more interesting picture. [wikipedia.org] The same process happe
      • I for one would not want to include the words "pencil thick" when talking about condoms!
    • by kestasjk (933987) *
      If the author of TFA needs to dumb it down for him/herself, fine. But I wish they wouldn't assume that we all have a G.W.Bush I.Q.
      It seemed like quite an illuminating example to me..

      Would you prefer "it can withstand an impulsive force of 4.1x10^7 N"? Do you want to feel smart or just get a feel for what they're up to?
      (For the pedantic; yes that figure may well be off by an order of magnitude.)
      • Your figure could be correct. Using data from Wikipedia for a Boeing 747-400, we have a cruise speed of 913 km/h = 253.6 m/s, and a maximum weight of 396890kg giving a fully loaded aircraft in flight a momentum of 1.01x10^8 kg m s^-1. However the empty weight is less than half this figure, so a lightly loaded 747 flying slowly could have a momentum of 4.1x10^7 kg m s^-1.

        What is wrong though is your unit and your term "impulsive force". Impulse (which is indeed what we should be talking about when we want
        • I prefer real world examples, possibly because I don't feel a need to flog my brain in front of everyone to keep from feeling inadequate.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Oligonicella (659917)
      I wonder if you could get a GPA higher than Kerry's?
    • When I read the comment about stopping 747s in mid flight, I immediately had a vision of a huge net of this material covering the Whitehouse and the Pentagon, ready for the next time those black-hatted Al-Qaeda guys try to pull a fast one on Cowboy George and the Neocon posse!
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by heinousjay (683506)
      Four minutes from story to the first boring, unrelated Bush joke. Slashdot is slipping, I expect this useless "comedy" in the first minute. What's wrong with you guys? You losing taste for being not funny? Or maybe it takes you longer to think of a new way to say the same damn thing for the millionth time?
      • Now you know how us liberals feel. You guys STILL haven't stopped with the damn Clinton jokes. Tell you what, you guys stop making dumb Clinton jokes, we'll stop making stupdid Bush jokes. Deal?
    • There is nothing wrong with using the time-tested "star trek method" of scientific explanation. ("Reverse the polarity of the heisenberg interlopers, it'll be like putting too much air into a balloon") Most people don't have a good frame of reference for tensile strength, so it's not a bad way to put it.

      Also, G. Dub is actually pretty smart. (you don't get to be president by being stupid) He may make poor choices or flub his speech, but neither is a reflection of intelligence.

    • Sounds like "It can transmit the entire library of congress in less than a minute."
      If the author of TFA needs to dumb it down for him/herself, fine. But I wish they wouldn't assume that we all have a G.W.Bush I.Q.

      I'm guessing the target demographic of that publication is one that wouldn't know what to do with a bunch of math which explained the tensile strength directly. This isn't a scientific journal, it is a publication designed to get the general public excited about science. For that purpose, as stupid as the comparison is, I think the statement functions quite well.

      On that note; anyone care to take the time to calculate the kinetic energy of a 747 in flight and use that to figure out if this would be strong

    • by StikyPad (445176)
      Scientists have previously suggested that a mere pencil-thick strand of silk could actually stop a Boeing 747 in mid flight.

      What does that even mean? I'm pretty sure that even if the strand didn't break, the plane would slice clean through or rip apart rather than stopping. I think -- and I could be way off here -- that simply providing the lifting strength of the strand would be more useful, either in tons, in common cargo, or in comparison to another well-known line material, such as steel cable. "A 1/
  • They are reinventing the prior art of his.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 21, 2007 @03:26AM (#17700214)
    With great power comes great responsibility. Remember that, MIT. Remember that.
  • Reproducing the elasticity and strength attributes would be great. It would be even cooler if the synthetic materials developed were also biodegradable.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well I guess that would limit it to indoor applications..... :*S
    • by corbettw (214229)
      It would be even cooler if the synthetic materials developed were also biodegradable.

      Except if it were, it would seriously impact the longevity of the product, rendering it useless for things like construction. Who wants a building that's going to fall apart in ten or twenty years because of bacteria eating it?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by paeanblack (191171)
        Except if it were, it would seriously impact the longevity of the product, rendering it useless for things like construction. Who wants a building that's going to fall apart in ten or twenty years because of bacteria eating it?

        Developers, Architects, Engineers, Contractors, Laborers, Brokers, Agents, Lawyers, and everyone else who makes money replacing it.

        The world learned a long time ago that there is no money to be made in selling products that last.
        • by Twinbee (767046)
          Well those energy efficient bulbs last 10 years, and hard drives are more reliable than before (Seagate offer 5 year warranty on some).

          Judging from past comments on slashdot, I'm pretty sure there would be massive pressure from many sectors for long-life products despite the profit motive you speak of.

          Perhaps you're right when it comes to razor blades though.
        • by Grishnakh (216268)
          Don't be ridiculous. All those people are still beholden to the customer, and no one (especially large companies building large buildings) is going to be stupid enough to buy a building made of a material that will fall apart so fast. Plus, it wouldn't meet building codes, so it wouldn't be legal to use it anyway.
  • "it is being monitored by military elements, keenly interested in applications of this material to front-line technologies"

    I smell another 'non-lethal' crowd control option brewing.

    "Keep them people down with webs, Private!"

  • by DarkIye (875062)
    "This material, like lycra in many ways..."

    Ok, I get that...

    "...has a number of unique properties."

    Wait. So, is it like lycra, or mostly unique?

  • If I hear anything about flying mini-gliders, I'm going to seriously freak...
  • Between this and the http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/02/0 8/2215253&tid=99 [slashdot.org]GM goats we should have Alec Guinness' white suit in no time.
  • I don't think we should bother upgrading our troops until we've at least researched Photon Wall.
  • Well (Score:1, Redundant)

    by SeaFox (739806)
    I, for one, welcome our new SpiderGeek overlords!
  • I love the fact that no one understands the summary so everyone just tags the article as 'science'.
  • SilkSteel Alloys (Score:3, Informative)

    by SMACX guy (1003684) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @05:51AM (#17700680) Homepage
    Until quite recently, spider silk had been the highest tensile strength of any substance known to man, and the name Silksteel pays homage to the arachnid for good reason.
    • by dbIII (701233)
      Until quite recently, spider silk had been the highest tensile strength of any substance known to man

      This is of course utter bullshit. The advantage of silk is that it doesn't weigh much so the strength to weight ratio is good.

    • I looked at your user page and I have come to the conclusion that you are Sid Meier. I suggest for your next stint you refer to Monopole Magnets. You could work it into an article about the LHC and its fitting as SilkSteel Alloys is a prerequisite of Monopole Magnets.
  • This would make a marvelous material for suspension bridges. It could drastically reduce the weight, which means that the foundations don't need to be as massive (read: expensive).

    -jcr
    • by nusuth (520833)
      The article is light on details but it seems that they are using unmodified linear polyurethane as the polymer base. In that case, prolonged stretching (due to constant load) will lead to extension set, i.e. the polymer will no longer stretch back if the load is removed. It will also sag, as the "pulling" force will decrease over time. This material is probably suitable for intermittent loads only.
    • I was under the impression that most of the task for suspension bridge foundations was to maintain tension in the cables. Since most of the weight being held up by that tension is the road deck and the vehicles crossing the bridge, lighter cables don't seem like that much of a boon. If these cables are more resistant to degradation from, say, saltwater spray, though, that could be a useful property. Since it seems like they're made out of some kind of plastic they could be useful crossing bodies of saltwate
  • by billlion (101976) on Sunday January 21, 2007 @06:18AM (#17700792)
    This work at MIT is not really an attempt to make synthetic spider silk but just something with similar properties.

    Spider silk is a kind made of protein and the feedstock is a liquid crystal

    A company called Spinox Ltd (an Oxford University Spin off -- get it? ha ha ). Here is a note from a Smith Insitute workshop on the topic [smithinst.ac.uk].

    This group is actually trying to emulate what goes on in a spider (biomimetics). The big advantage is that it uses harmless ingredients and low temperatures. Compare for example Kevlar, the manufacture of which needs concentrated sulfuric acid. Spinox details [isis-innovation.com]
    • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mangu (126918)
      The big advantage is that it uses harmless ingredients and low temperatures. Compare for example Kevlar, the manufacture of which needs concentrated sulfuric acid.

      I'm not sure that's such an advantage. There's concentrated sulfuric acid in car batteries, people have been driving cars for a hundred years, how many people have suffered accidents from battery acid in that time? I mean, compared to overall accidents involving cars?

      Industrial processes often involve nasty chemicals, at dangerous temperatures an

      • by nusuth (520833)
        GP is probably a troll. Making polyurethane requires phosgene. Sulfuric acid is far less dangerous.
  • by SilentOneNCW (943611) <silentdragon AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday January 21, 2007 @07:50AM (#17701146) Homepage
    Wow, looks like the U.S. Military will be faced with two options for next generation armour -- this and Troy Hurtubise's Anti-Grizzly Suit [wikipedia.org]. I wonder who would win in a fight to the death?
    • Increase your odds for the suit -- its inventor upgraded it recently [slashdot.org].

      Seriously, DARPA has been working with MIT through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies [mit.edu] to develop advanced armor, apparently including powered armor.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        Starship Troopers, here we come. I remember being very disappointed in the movie version of Heinlein's book, because I was hoping and expecting the Mobile Infantry to have Powered Suits, and really wanted to see what a modern special-effects team could do with the idea. As described by Juan "Johnny" Rico's character from the novel (source: Wikipedia):

        Our suits give us better eyes, better ears, stronger backs (to carry heavier weapons and more ammo), better legs, more intelligence (in the military meaning
  • In addition to licensing the formula to chemical companies and manufacturers, the would make a hell of alot more by licensing to toy companie. THAT would be a huge sale during the next Spider Man release or Christmas season. The problems that happened during the Tickle Me Elmo ordeal would pale in comparison.

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