The superhero “Spider-Man” shoots webbing from his wrists to swing between buildings. But do you know the true strength of the spider silk? It is a highly elastic and heat resistant high performance material that is stronger than steel. The mass production of such a magical fiber was made possible by a Japanese venture company for the first time in the world. This new material, which had been sought by researchers around the world, is no longer a fantasy and is set to be used in a multitude of industrial products.
Spider-Man shoots webbing at a movie premier. June 2012, Osaka City. ©Kyodo News
Stronger than steel
The dress made with synthetic spider silk (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)
In the movie, Spider-Man uses spider webs to stop a train. Real-life spider silk also has an amazing potential for strength. Calculated to be approximately five times stronger than steel, if you were to make a web with spider silk 1 cm in diameter, it would have the strength to catch a jumbo jet as if it were a dragonfly or butterfly. Spider silk is also as elastic as nylon, six times lighter than steel of the same strength, and able to withstand temperatures of 300 degrees Celsius; it truly is a magical fiber.
Recently, a Japanese venture company has succeed for the first in the world to develop technology for mass producing a synthetic spider silk with the same qualities as natural spider silk. Based on the pronunciation of the Japanese word for spider web, “KUMONOSU,” the synthetic spider silk was named “QMONOS.” A blue dress made of fabric woven with QMONOS, which was revealed as a prototype to the public in May 2013, glow mystically by reflecting the light as if it were a futuristic image seen in a movie.
|Synthetic spider silk (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)||
Synthetic spider silk when viewed under an electron microscope (courtesy of Spiber Inc.)
Research into the mass production of synthetic spider silk has been going on around the world for decades. Some researchers thought to farm large quantities of spiders for their silk; however, due to spider’s highly territorial and cannibalistic nature, this proved impossible. In Japan, research into altering the DNA of silk worms to produce spider silk was attempted, but the worms did not produce large quantities of spider silk.