WWW: Spiders and Nanotech
I dedicate this post to Bob. How could I not, it is about his two favorite things.
An Oxford University team is studying the ‘garden centre spider’ or Uloborus plumipes‘ method for spinning webs to learn how we might create thinner, stronger nano-scale filaments.
Some spiders use sticky glue blobs to capture prey, but this spider electrically charges dry nano-scale filaments create puffs that structurally resemble wool. The thin nature of the fibers and the charges create an electrostatic interaction that is highly adhesive, called the van der Waals force. This force is the same that allows small creatures like geckos to climb vertical walls.
Uloborus has some of the smallest cribellum, or silk glands, of any spider. The silk material is pushed from the ducts, (500 nanometers) through narrow nozzles (50nm) that spin, forming just before it exits the spider. After forming the silk is roughly combed by special hairs on the spider’s hind legs to create the sticky puffs. Here is an enlarged image of the ‘puffs’ created by a Scanning Electron Microscope.
Image Credit: Fritz Vollrath, Oxford University
This process of electro-spinning the fibers as they are created could potentially be replicated in the commercial production of nano-fibers as a more efficient means of processing polymers.
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Olaf Leillinger