The age-old question of whether spider silk is stronger than steel has had received multiple reactions. However, in the last year, scientists have confirmed that spider silk is stronger. In fact, it has been proven that this wondrous silk is more than twice as strong as steel.
To figure out the actual strength of the silk, scientists took advantage of an atomic force microscope, which produces a high-resolution image of items that can be a fraction of a nanometer in length. After conducting an experiment using this microscope, scientists found that one strand of silk is made of thousands of nano strands. When comparing the tensile strengths of the two, spider silk ranges from 0.45-2 GPa while steel lies at only 0.4 GPa.
In another experiment done by the Science Channel, 28-gauge steel wire was put up against its density equivalent in spider silk to see which could hold the most weight before giving up under the pressure. The steel wire was found to hold a maximum of 12.5 pounds. The latter was found to hold more than twice as much at 26.0 pounds.
You might be wondering how something that seems so flimsy could be stronger than steel. The secret lies in the protein that makes up the silk: spidroins. The amino acids that make up this protein are proline, alanine, and glycine. Research has shown that the alanine and glycine content determines the strength of the spider silk.
The characteristics of the spider silk have gotten the attention of many people in the business and medical field because of its potential uses in their respective fields. The biocompatibility aspect of the silk may allow for it to help in the regeneration of tissues within humans and advancements in tissue engineering. Additionally, it has already entered the fashion world with designers using spider silk in their collections as a centerpiece to attract potential customers. With advancements in technology, we could be seeing a future with synthetic spider silk used in place of steel and other applications.