Spiders Eat Graphene, Spin Superwebts

Researchers say feeding graphene to spiders produces stronger webs. The researchers think it could mean new ways to make parachutes rather than it being the start of a cheap disaster movie.

As we’ve covered many times, graphene is made of carbon atoms arranged in a chain of hexagons, somewhat like chicken wire. The material is incredibly strong yet ultra-thin and flexible, leading to all manner of uses.

The researchers were led by Nicola Pugno of the University of Trento in Italy. They explored the idea that spiders already produce webs that share characteristics with graphene – while they aren’t resilient enough to stand up to a feather duster, they are strong enough to hold a spider’s weight. The idea was that combining spider webs with graphene might allow the webs to be scaled up.

It turned out the simplest way to combine the materials was simply to feed the graphene via drinking water to the spiders, who then incorporated it into the silk they spun into a web. The graphene-enhanced silk was five times stronger than the all-natural variant, with the researchers comparing it with Kevlar. They say it could one day lead to spider webs being sturdy enough to use in parachutes. In the bigger picture they want to further explore the idea of animals and plants integrating “reinforcements” into the biological structural materials they produce, making what they’ve dubbed ‘bionicomposites’.