Skip to Content

Spinning a (Silk) Yarn

Who needs spiders? An arachnoid-mimicking device turns out strong, light, flexible fibers.

Spider silk is among the strongest materials known, but an artificial version whose strength matches the original’s has proven difficult to produce commercially. Now spider experts at the University of Oxford, England, have developed a device they believe holds promise for breaking that barrier by mimicking arachnoid spinning. The researchers have founded a company, Spinox, to commercialize the technology. Starting with proteins from silkworms, the device produces highly lustrous fibers only about 15 to 20 micrometers in diameter. Spinox’s device uses a special membrane to mimic the conditions in a spider’s silk-making organ; under these conditions, the proteins self-assemble into nanofibrils. Making larger fibers out of the nanofibrils is simple, says cofounder David Knight: “You just pull it out of the device. The molecules stick together in the actual device and come out as a beautiful thread.” Possible uses include medical implants, safety belts, composite materials for car body parts, protective clothing, durable sneakers-just about anything that could benefit from an ultrastrong, superlight material, Knight says. The researchers are working to refine the spinning device and believe that artificially spun fibers as strong and flexible as spider silk could be on the market in three to five years.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why.

And that's a problem. Figuring it out is one of the biggest scientific puzzles of our time and a crucial step towards controlling more powerful future models.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario–like games from scratch

Genie learns how to control games by watching hours and hours of video. It could help train next-gen robots too.

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.