Spiders and silkworms are masters of materials science, but scientists are finally catching up. Silks are among the toughest materials known, stronger and less brittle, pound for pound, than steel. Now scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have unraveled some of their deepest secrets in research that could lead the way to the creation of synthetic materials that duplicate, or even exceed, the extraordinary properties of natural silk.
Markus Buehler, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and his team study fundamental properties of materials and how those materials fail. With silk, that meant using computer models that can simulate not just the structures of the molecules but exactly how they move and interact in relation to each other. The models helped the researchers determine the molecular and atomic mechanisms responsible for the material’s remarkable mechanical properties.