Researchers fed silkworm with carbon nanotubes and graphene after which they found worms spun the super silk instead of regular one.
The super silk
You might be familiar with Spiderman’s super web, though not sarcastically real researchers from China used a different type of conventional approach to spin super silk naturally. Compared to its predecessor super silk is double stronger in tensile strength. They achieved this feat by feeding the silkworm with tiny carbon nanotubes & graphene. So spun silk has more durability and strength such that they can be used in tension fabrics, medical implants, and even electronics.
In the traditional approach, the textiles used to treat the silk collected from cocoons in additives or chemical agents in order to improve their strength. They used conductive polymers, antimicrobial agents, chemical dyes or pigments, and Nanoparticles for the purpose. Silkworms feed on mulberry leaves and secrete the fine silk protein threads to form a cocoon, from which silk is collected.
About the experiment
The research work was carried out in Tsinghua University by Yingying Zhang et al., who fed the worms with mulberry leaves that are sprayed with a solution enriched with 0.2% carbon nanotubes or graphene. Later they collected the spun silk from cocoons, which has already been into super silk by then. In the traditional approach they had to treat the silk in toxic chemicals, which was harmful to workers, but now super silk is achieved by a more environment-friendly manner. Compared to a standard silk, this newly developed super silk is twice thicker and can take up more than 50 % of stress without breaking. The research team also studied its conductivity and structure after heating the silk at nearly 1000OC. The best part is, silk exhibited a conductive property which waves its scope in electronics.
How useful is this silk?
When the silk is subjected to Raman spectroscopy and electron microscopic study it showed that the carbon microcrystals are arranged in a more orderly fashion than its predecessor raw silk. This indeed justified the increased strength of the super silk. They have an extended field of application in many areas of innovation, science, technology, medical science, research, military etc. The super silk can be made resistance to UV light when the worm is fed with titanium dioxide nanoparticles instead of carbon nanotubes. By successfully demonstrating this experiment they have opened a new window of technological concatenation with biology to make some artificial stuff which could benefit human a million way!
Directly obtaining high strength silk fiber from silkworm by feeding carbon nanotubes. Wang JT, Li LL, Zhang MY, Liu SL, Jiang LH, Shen Q. Mater Sci Eng C Mater Biol Appl. 2014 Jan 1; 34:417-21. [PMID:24268277]
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