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

Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station
Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

Most public health bodies dealing with covid have long since moved on from the idea of surface transmission. China’s didn’t—and that helps it control the narrative about the disease’s origins and danger.

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration 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.