They are creepy. They crawl. Whether we notice them or not, they are practically everywhere. They are also a source of inspiration for innovation! What?
Most of us don’t want spiders anywhere near us. It’s always disconcerting when they sneak up on us in the shower, sleep, walk into an invisible net, pop out a long way, or pop out of gaps. When we come across them, their reputation even suggests burning down our homes! Some are huge, some are deadly, most are harmless, and they eat a lot of things that could hurt us.
But it turns out they can inspire much more than fear or superman, who can sling up nets and save people in danger. Who knew these fearsome little eight-legged creatures could give us more than we thought. Here’s innovation, and we can thank these little “horrors” for their influence. So maybe they’re not as bad as we believe. Our nightmares gave way to dreams of a better future.
Kevlar may become an invention of the past even though it, too, was inspired by spider silk. The light, intensely strong polymer used in things from body armor to sailboat sails pales in comparison to some of its newer off-shoots also developed from that sticky elastic that we’ve all unknowingly and unhappily wandered into at some point.
It takes 33 layers of Kevlar to stop a .22 caliber bullet. But a new material, dubbed “Dragon Silk,” made from silk produced by Golden Orb Weaver spiders, can stop the same caliber bullet with only 4 layers. Now that is impressive! It’s so promising that the U.S. Army has invested in its production and expects to be using it extensively in the future. It has taken millions of spiders to create what they have so far. Thank you for your service, you webby geniuses.
And then, there is artificial silk resulting from work being done at Washington University in St. Louis that is called “polymeric amyloid” fiber. This is a derivative of spider silk created from an “engineered bacteria that produced a recombinant silk with performance on par with its natural counterparts in all of the important mechanical properties.” The aim is now to create something even stronger than spider silk. Turns out smarty human brains, bacteria, and spiders make a great team.