Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanisms of the web


03/03/2011

Scientists now have a better understanding of why spider silk fibers are so incredibly strong. A recent scientific study published in February in the Journal of Biophysical, describes the architecture of silk fibers at the atomic level and displays new information about the molecular structure, highlighting the amazing mechanical characteristics of this amazing natural material.

Spiders spun silk, wherein a higher degree of strength and flexibility for use in weaving the web and to itself retained thereon. "Silk fibers show amazing mechanical properties. They can be compared to steel, the ultimate strength of more than fiber Kevlar (papa-apamidnoe volokno), and a density less than cotton or nylon" - explains the study’s lead author Dr. Frauke Grater (Frauke Grater) from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany. "Because silk fibers surpass all their artificial counterparts in terms of strength, scientists in many studies have tried to understand the mechanical characteristics of these extraordinary natural fibers."

Scientists know that spider silk fibers consist of two types of building blocks: the soft amorphous and strong crystalline components. The research team of Dr. Gratera tried to develop a better understanding of the mechanical properties of spider silk fibers and applied a computational method for the analysis at the level of atoms, amorphous and crystalline subunits involved in the formation of building blocks. The group used as molecular modeling to study the individual and combined subunits and finite element modeling to understand the fiber model.

The researchers found that the soft amorphous subunits are responsible for the elasticity of silk and also help with the distribution of stress. Maximum strength of silk requires a special amount of crystalline subunits and is dependent on the method of distribution in the fiber. Another structural architecture of fiber subunits were tested for the presence of optimal mechanical performance.

"We have determined that the sequential arrangement of crystalline and amorphous sub-blocks on the disks where they are arbitrary or parallel distribution, represents a new structural model for silk" - said Dr. Grater. In conjunction with the results of previous studies, data provided a clearer understanding of the mechanical nature of spider silk fibers and may be useful for the design of artificial silk fibers.

Original: Physorg Translation: M. Potter


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