Stronger than steel: The secrets of spider silk are unravelled by scientists

The mysterious mechanics of what makes spider silk so strong have baffled scientists for generations.

Now researchers in Germany have gone back to basics and believe they have finally uncovered what makes it so tough.

Spiders spin silk to use in webs and to suspend themselves.

Scientists believe that the reason for its incredible strength lies in its unique combination of a shapeless goo and a tough crystalline material.

Separately, these materials aren’t particularly impressive, but when combined they provide the silk with its versatile strength.

A study led by Dr Frauke Grdter, of the Heidelberg Institute For Theoretical Studies, looked at the architecture of silk fibres from the atomic level up.

They found new information about the molecular structure that underlies the amazing mechanical characteristics of the natural material.

Dr Grdter: ‘Silk fibres exhibit astonishing mechanical properties.

‘They have an ultimate strength comparable to steel, toughness greater than Kevlar and a density less than cotton or nylon.

‘Because silk fibres continue to outperform their artificial counterparts in terms of toughness, many studies have tried to understand the mechanical characteristics of these extraordinary natural fibres.’

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