Scientists Make Spider Silk Sculptures With the Help of Lasers
We’ve all been hearing about the amazing things scientists have figured out how to make using spider silk such as fabric stronger than Kevlar, but yet another incredible use for spider silk has recently been discovered. Physicist Kamal Singh of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali, India found a way to make dazzling sculptures out of spider silk using a femtosecond laser. He has created shapes such as twisted chains, coiled springs, and silk loops that any normal spider could never produce on their own. Singh and his colleagues even built a Mobius strip, which is a one-sided twisted cylinder. Not only can he make the silk into sculptures, but he has also found a way to attach the silk to other materials such as glass and metal. His hope is that this new technique could have uses other than simply being beautiful such as possibly creating new bandages for wounds or burns. His technique could literally change the world.
Singh gets his silk from the thousands of spiders that live in his garden. To procure the material he first coaxes a spider onto a stick and then gives it a quick jerk. When the spider jumps off it leaves behind a perfect line of spider silk. The next step is to use his special femtosecond laser to tailor the silk into new shapes. This laser sends out powerful pulses of light that only last a mere femtoseconds, with each femtosecond comprised of 0.000000000000001 of a second, so there are a thousand trillion of these femtoseconds in one second. With this laser he can make extremely precise cuts, as well as remove sections of silk and even attach it to other materials.
It took a great deal of experimenting to even discover the possibilities of using lasers on silk. Singh was initially studying the strength of spider silk, twisting and stretching spider silk with the aid of his students to see when it would finally break. After 10 days of constantly stretching the silk for 10 hours at a time, the silk still didn’t break, so this got Singh thinking of how one might go about cutting silk. To make the precise cuts he wanted, Singh knew he couldn’t use conventional tools like scissors, and this led him to finally get a femtosecond laser, which proved to be the perfect tool. The laser was able to deliver a powerful burst of energy onto a very small area, and the pulses were short enough that they also wouldn’t destroy the silk. From that point on history was made. The versatility of spider silk continues to amaze scientists.
What other possible uses could we have for sculpting spider silk and attaching it to other materials? What would you use it to make?