Rewriting Life

How Cocoons Are Turned Into Optical Devices

A simple process turns cocoons into optical devices with biological applications.

  • by Katherine Bourzac
  • December 22, 2008
  • Researcher Carmen Preda scoops up silkworm cocoons, the starting material for the biodegradable devices. The cocoons must be cut open and the dead worms inside them discarded.
Preda stirs cut-up cocoons in a salt solution. The cocoons are boiled in a beaker over a hot plate to dissolve the protein that holds them together, sericin. The silk fibers, now pure fibroin protein, will be dissolved in another salt solution.
Using a syringe, Preda loads the syrupy silk solution into a dialysis cartridge. The cartridge will be placed in a beaker of water, which will draw the salt out through the cartridge’s clear window. Finally, Preda will use a syringe to suck out the pure water-fibroin solution left behind, which she’ll store in the fridge.
To make a hologram, a researcher deposits the water-based solution of pure silk fibroin onto a mold with a pipette. Fibroin makes a good optical material because it’s translucent when it dries, and it conforms well to both the nanoscale and macro­scale details of molds like this one.
This story is part of our January/February 2009 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe
After drying for several hours, silk optical devices like the hemoglobin-containing card in the researcher’s left hand can be peeled off their molds. Each iridescent square has been molded into a different device. One is a diffraction grating that can act as an oxygen sensor.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.