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'We are trying to modify properties of spider silk' – Dr Knez

May '09
Spiders have been existing on this planet since more than 400 million years; long enough to perfect their silk making mechanisms. Silk from spiders is an amazing material which can withstand the stress of adverse conditions. These delicate strands possess unbelievable elasticity that can stretch up to twenty times of its normal length and have the resistance of steel.

Spider silk is not an unknown term. It is an age old theory now more being recognized world wide. This fibre has a wonderful quality, as far as strength is concerned. With an idea of gathering more information related to Spider silk, Fibre2fashion approached Dr.Mato Knez, researcher and scientist at the Max Planck Society in Germany, which has developed a spider silk yarn which has the strength of steel.

We started off by asking him the recent developments in spider silk, to which he said, “Currently there are lots of progresses in producing artificial spider silk and although artificially produced silk is not yet identical with the original one, the researchers are close to developing like the original”.

Next we asked him as to how one could actually gauge the strength of silk and also delve on some other properties of this wonderful fibre, to which he replied by saying, “The strength of original silk is slightly lower than a comparative steel fibre and the main benefit of spider silk, however, is its toughness and the spider silk outperforms most of the manmade materials and at the same time it is very lightweight and this is the reason why lots of researchers would like to reproduce the silk artificially”.

We than asked him as to what is the Max Planck Society actually conducting research on and what are expected to be the end applications, to which he said, “Our interest is not primarily silk and we are looking into the chemistry and physics of methods to modify the silk properties. Silk is just an example of a biological material, which we use as a target. Other biomaterials which are also of interest for us may not necessarily be fibres, but are also membranes, etc.

We continued by asking him if for the process to be made commercially viable, does he expect spider silk to be available in large quantities, to which he explained by saying, “For commercial purposes this would be desirable, but as it is not easily possible to obtain natural spider silk in large quantities, it would be preferable to have a route to produce fibres with similar properties, which is also not as easy at the moment, i.e. artificial spider silk needs some more improvement.

Considering the strength of the spider silk, in to what other applications could the spider silk be put to use, we concluded the interview by asking him, to which he said, “The spider silk, because of the small quantities, may probably be of not much use. But, modified artificial silk, once it can be obtained, or further fibrous materials with similar properties, could find lots of applications starting from ropes and going on to new materials for car industry, aviation, etc., where ever lightweight and tough materials are used and I think there is no limit for the imagination”.

Fibre2fashion News Desk - India

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