Spider silk is one of the strongest fibers known having a strength greater than that of steel, just ask Spiderman, he’s been swinging through New York with it since 1962.* Now scientists have produced a tougher form by embedding metals within the structure of the silk.
Spider silk is a protein and protein structures with metals embedded within them are already known in nature for their strength giving properties. They form parts of claws and jaws in various insects and give these structures fearsome strength. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany took this observation and ran with it, using some clever chemistry that even Peter Parker would be envious of, to get the metals incorporated into the spider silk protein.
Somewhat bizarrely the team obtained most of the silk for their experiments from a spider found in the garden of the Institute.
The technique could be used to strengthen commercial silk fibres, typically sourced from the silk worm. Such fibres could be stronger and lighter weight and may be useful in the constant search for new and better materials for technology and medicine.
*Of course the true comic book geek can spot that this isn’t strictly true. Spiderman has used both a synthetic web-like material that he made himself and fired from Web-shooters as well as producing a biological web-fluid after his transformation in the Disassembled storyline.