Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Scientists have made spider silk stronger and tougher by enhancing it with carbon nanotubes -- tiny, rolled-up sheets of graphene.
Researchers created the new material by spraying spiders and their living quarters with graphene and carbon nanotube solutions. When scientists tested the spider silk, they confirmed the spiders had ingested the graphene and incorporated the nanomaterials into their silk.
Mechanical testing proved the graphene-enhanced silk was three-times stronger and 10-times as tough. The biocomposite silk threads also boasted improved elasticity.
Researchers believe the new extra-strong threads could be used to make high-performance or biodegradable textiles, like a parachute or surgical suture.
"Humans have used silkworm silks widely for thousands of years, but recently research has focused on spider silk, as it has promising mechanical properties," Nicola Pugno, a material scientist at the University of Trento in Italy, said in a news release. "It is among the best spun polymer fibers in terms of tensile strength, ultimate strain, and especially toughness, even when compared to synthetic fibers such as Kevlar."
Often, material scientists attempt to replicate natural products in the lab. The latest experiments showcase the benefits of harnessing and enhancing natural materials.
"This is the highest fiber toughness reported to date, and a strength comparable to that of the strongest carbon fibers or limpet teeth," said Pugno.
Researchers described their feat this week in the journal 2D Materials.