Silk—the stuff of lustrous, glamorous clothing—is very strong. Researchers now report a clever way to make the gossamer threads even stronger and tougher: by feeding silkworms graphene or single-walled carbon nanotubes cen.acs.org
Silkworms may be humanity’s favorite caterpillar. For over five thousand years, silk from these bugs’ cocoons has produced a protein-based thread that is strong as well as beautiful. Can technology improve on nature’s fiber?
Fabrics can, of course, be treated with dyes or preservatives, but by spraying mulberry leaves – silkworm food – with graphene or single-walled carbon nanotubes, the silk will be even stronger and can conduct electricity. Or feed the caterpillars titanium dioxide and increase silk’s resistance to UV light.
This new material may be useful in biodegradable medical implants or ecofriendly wearable electronics.
Carbon nanotubes have extraordinary properties. Without being incorporated into silk, they’re used in resins for wind turbines, marine paints, skis, baseball bats, hunting arrows, and bicycle components.
A novel radical initiated thermal crosslinking method to fabricated macroscopic, free-standing, porous, all-carbon scaffolds using single- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes as building blocks [whew, there’s a mouthful]… may be used for the fabrication of the next generation of energy storage, supercapacitors, field emission transistors, high-performance catalysis, photovoltaics, and biomedical devices and implants… Carbon nanotubes have been identified as possibly being able to meet the specific strength requirements for an Earth space elevator. wikipedia here and here.
Under some conditions, these compounds can migrate into living cells, so safety is an evolving concern and nanomaterials probably shouldn’t be added willy-nilly to products, especially not to simply be trendy. But with so many applications, we’re bound to see more of them. It would be grand if our ancient friend the silkworm could help us understand more about a cutting edge material.