Researchers develop 'liquid wire' that acts like spider silk

And the nature-inspired threads could have a wide range of applications.

University of Oxford

The properties of spider silk that make it so intriguing are also what makes it so difficult to recreate in a lab, but a team of researchers now believes they have cracked one puzzle about spider silk: how does it remain taut when even when stretched?

According to a new paper published in the journal PNAS, that's because the tiny droplets of "watery glue" that coat the spider's silk act as a spool that reels in loose thread and keep it from sagging or stretching. It's a fine balance between the elasticity of the silk and the surface tension of the sticky droplets. With that as their inspiration, a team of researchers from Oxford University and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie were able to recreate the technique using plastic filaments coated in oil droplets. Observe:

According to the team's lead Dr. Hervé Elettro, the synthetic spider silk, which they're calling a "liquid wire," could prove to be incredibly useful in the fields of materials, engineering and medicine.

"Our bio-inspired hybrid threads could be manufactured from virtually any components," Elettro wrote. "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."