Human beings have now made their own spider webs, without a single bite from a radioactive spider.
The web-like fibers, created by scientists in the U.K. and France, are as strong and elastic as the real thing, staying taut no matter how many times they’re stretched.
“Learning from this natural example of geometry and mechanics, we manufactured programmable liquid wires that present previously unidentified pathways for the design of new hybrid solid–liquid materials,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the journal PNAS.
The key was first figuring out the secret behind spider webs’ strength. Spider webs, the study discovered, are lined with droplets of a spider-made “glue.” The thread of the web stays coiled inside the droplets when the web is at rest, and uncoils when the web is stretched—but when the stretching stops, the thread coils right back up again, so the web can be stretched over and over without gaining any slack.
“Numerous cycles can be performed without noticing any fatigue in the system, thereby resulting in a fully reversible mechanism,” as the study puts it.
Imitating this method of coiling, the researchers then created composite fibers in a lab—complete with spider-like “glue droplets”—that successfully mimicked the same stretching ability.
Whether they can be used to fight crime has yet to be seen.