Atomic Layer Deposition Like Wolverine's

Super-strong spider silk has been produced using a process that sounds like it might produce a superhero itself - atomic layer deposition. The researchers were inspired by nature; mandibles of leaf-cutter ants and locusts are peppered with zinc, making them stronger and more durable.

(Overview of ALD spider silk)

The team fired beams of ionised metal compounds at lengths of silk from the orb-weaving spider Araneus diatematus using a technology called atomic layer deposition (ALD). As well as coating each silk fibre in a fine metal oxide, some metal ions penetrated the fibre.They tried zinc, aluminium and titanium compounds, all of which improved the mechanical properties of the silk.

"With all three metals, the fibres can hold three to four times as much weight," says Knez. The fibres also become stretchier, so that their toughness - the energy needed to break a strand - rises even more. "The work needed to break the fibre rises tenfold with titanium, ninefold with aluminium and fivefold with zinc," he says.

The developers of this technique, Seung-Mo Lee and Mato Knez at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany, also believe that it can be used to strengthen other biomaterials. Like bones, for example - or extendable claws. Like those of Wolverine, perhaps?

In the new X-Men movie, we see how Wolverine becomes unstoppable. Adamantium, a rare (fictional) metal derived from meteor remains, is bonded to his biological skeleton. Like the real-life mandibles of leaf-cutter ants, his bones become much harder when metal is bonded to the original structure.

(Wolverine has adamantium applied to the skull)

Also, this is good news for the many law enforcement personnel who can't wait to throw super-strong webs at evil doers (see T-34 Security Robot Throws Nets and NET-2000 Shooting Net Rod Nails Perps ).

If you want to hang from a web like Spiderman, you're going to need ALD spider silk.

(Spidey waits patiently, suspended in web)

From For super-tough spider silk, just add titanium ; thanks to Zac for recommending this story, for which I finally figured out the X-men connection.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/5/2009)

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