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Spider Silk Is Strong Because It’s Smart

Spider silk is well known for some spectacular properties. It is stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar yet flexible enough to be spun into a wide variety of shapes.

New research shows that the material is not only strong but also smart.

“Spider silk has a particular way of softening and then being stiff that is really essential for it to function properly,” said engineer Markus J. Buehler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who co-authored the new study, which appears in Nature Feb. 2.

A spider web provides its occupant with a home and a way to catch prey. It needs to stand up to pesky attackers and sometimes withstand hurricane-force winds. Using computer models of spider silk and experiments on the webs of common European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), Buehler and his team found a web’s unique skills come from its ability to react differently to different stress levels.

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