MAY 29, 2016 7:55 AM PDT

Is Spider Silk Really Tougher Than Steel?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

All spiders produce silk, but not all silk are created equal. A single spider can produce as many as seven different types of silks, each with its own purpose, such as for prey capture, web construction, or alarm lines. As fragile as they seem, spider silk is actually a biological marvel as they are tough, flexible, and extremely stable.

Some researchers even claim that spider silk is tougher than steel. How so? Spider silk has high tensile strength - that is, the ability to absorb a lot of stress before breaking. For one variety of spider silk, the tensile strength is about 1 Gpa, a unit of measuring force per unit area. By comparison, the tensile strength of steel ranges from 0.2 Gpa to 2 Gpa.

The remarkable mechanical properties of silk make this material highly versatile but extremely difficult to replicate in synthetic form. Scientists know the proteins that make up silk, but they've yet to rearrange it in the same way as spiders.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How the Hubble Space Telescope Transformed Astronomy
MAY 03, 2020
How the Hubble Space Telescope Transformed Astronomy
The Hubble Space Telescope has officially spent three decades in outer space, making it one of the most renowned space o ...
MAY 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
Penguins Have a Rough Time Combating Larger Predators
MAY 10, 2020
Penguins Have a Rough Time Combating Larger Predators
Humboldt penguins are small and easy prey for larger predators, and with that in mind, it may not come as much of a surp ...
MAY 15, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Fixing the Ozone Layer Resulted in Other Environmental Pollution
MAY 15, 2020
Fixing the Ozone Layer Resulted in Other Environmental Pollution
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was enacted in 1987. A new study has revealed that the ...
JUN 08, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Unlocking Deep Ocean Mysteries with eDNA
JUN 08, 2020
Unlocking Deep Ocean Mysteries with eDNA
The ocean remains largely unexplored, and the ocean’s twilight zone is of key interest to researchers. Named for t ...
JUN 30, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Axion: Could the Curious Particle "Kill Two Birds with One Stone"
JUN 30, 2020
Axion: Could the Curious Particle "Kill Two Birds with One Stone"
Physicists often ponder in an unusual way: they use one unsolved problem as a hypothetic solution to another, hoping to ...
JUL 08, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Microbots Show Promise for Advancing Single-Cell Tissue Biopsy
JUL 08, 2020
Microbots Show Promise for Advancing Single-Cell Tissue Biopsy
A biopsy is an invasive, interventional procedure that involves extracting a tissue sample for the diagnosis o ...
Loading Comments...