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Utah Univ to make synthetic spider silk for US army
06
Jan '16
The US Army has recently contracted with Utah State University to begin creating synthetic spider silk.

The University has announced that it has been awarded a $1 million Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research contract to team with a Salt Lake City company - Technology Holdings LLC to provide spider silk for the U.S. Army.

The contract, which is managed by the Army Research Office, will call for Utah State and Technology Holding LLC to provide the Army with multiple lengths of fiber made from synthetic spider silk while testing and analyzing the manufacturing process.

Dr. Randy Lewis, Utah Science Technology and Research professor of biology at Utah State University is in charge of the programme.

Lewis said spider silk is one of the strongest, yet most elastic materials known to man and has “almost infinite applications ... in the defense industry.”

“(But) the challenge has always been developing ways in which to produce synthetic spider silk in quantities sufficient enough for mass manufacturing,” Lewis said in a press release.

Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins that are used to create spider silk. In February, USU opened a facility geared toward producing the material in commercial quantities.

Lewis said momentum at the facility, which is called the USU Synthetic Bioproducts Center, precipitated the Army contract.

“(The center) has been making great strides in developing processes and technologies to more efficiently produce and process synthetic spider silk,” he said.

Lewis has researched the potential use of spider silk in several areas, including ligament and tendon repair, advanced coating, high-tech clothing, parachutes, bioadhesives, time release coatings and airbags.

“The silk that most people are interested in is called dragline. It makes the framework of the web and the radii. It has the tensile strength about the same as Kevlar, one of the strongest man-made materials,” Lewis said. “But … Kevlar doesn't stretch at all. The dragline itself will stretch 20-30 per cent. As a result, it absorbs much more energy than Kevlar.”

“In particular, the funding we have gotten from the army for the next two years is to try to develop, in essence, a material that will replace nylon,” Lewis said. “The major reason for that is they're looking for something that won't melt when it gets hot.”

Nylon melts when it reaches high temperatures, often causing burn injuries on soldiers, even when an explosion does not directly impact the soldier, Lewis said. Spider silk, however, breaks down and becomes charred when it gets hot. Uniforms made of silk would not melt onto the skin of soldiers in those circumstances. (SH)

 

Fibre2Fashion News Desk - India

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