Newly Discovered Spider Silk Properties Are Soundly Promising

Spider silk may inspire better semiconductors

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Audiophiles and renewable energy wonks, rejoice. Arachnophobes, brace yourselves: recent studies published in Nature Materials may lead to spider silk inspired materials to manipulate sound and heat, much as semiconductors manipulate electrons, according to

The research, conducted collaboratively at Rice University in Europe and in Singapore, made a breakthrough in showing for the first time that spider silk has a phonon band gap. Phonons are a quantum of a soundwave and a quasiparticle that can behave like electrons in a semiconductor, while band gaps are the space in which semiconductors are semi-conductive (as opposed to insulators, preventing conduction, or conductors, promoting it).

“Phononic crystals give you the ability to manipulate sound waves, and if you get sound small enough and at high enough frequencies, you’re talking about heat,” Rice Engineering’s Dean Edwin Thomas points out. “Being able to make heat flow this way and not that way, or make it so it can’t flow at all, means you’re turning a material into a thermal insulator that wasn’t one before.” It’s the kind of function that has emerged in the super thin material research of late, like the development of a filter that can convert photons into phonons, or light into sound.

Nonlinear high-frequency photon control research contains important findings to discover in the age of hyper-fine materials like graphene, a superconductive two dimensional material with band gap issues. Spider silk’s microstructures could help with the goal of encouraging band gap formation. Its properties can also be replicated to test elasticity and sound in similar polymers.