Spiders Inspire Technology

February 15, 2012 Latest Updates by Brett Johnston

Spiders are amazing creatures - yes, there are many of us that suffer from aracnopobia but they really are amazing.

Spider webs are currently being studied at MIT by the civil and environmental engineering department. It is already known that the silk spiders use to build their webs is one of the strongest materials known(on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel) but it’s the material’s unusual combination of strength and stretchiness that makes it exceptional. They have found that webs can be quite damaged without actually failing. Damage tends to be localized, affecting just a few threads — the place where a bug got caught in the web and flailed around, for example. This localized damage can simply be repaired, rather than replaced.

The lessons learned from this work could not only help develop more damage-resistant synthetic materials, but could also provide design principles that might apply to networked systems such as the Internet or the electric grid.

One example of how this work could benefit us here on the westcost - earthquake-resistant buildings. Currently they are generally designed to protect the whole building by dissipating energy, reducing the load on the structure. When they fail, they tend to do so in their entirety. A new design might allow the building to flex up to a point, but then certain specific structural elements could break first, allowing the rest of the structure to survive; this might ultimately allow the building to be repaired rather than demolished.

Similar principles might apply to the design of airplanes or armored vehicles that could resist localized damage and keep functioning.


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