There is more to spiders and their gossamer webs than meets the untrained eye. Each year the spiders of the world capture and consume hundreds of millions of tons of insects. They do so using sub-micron silk filaments that beat most synthetic polymer fibres hands-down, both in terms of mechanical performance (much tougher even than Kevlar) and in costs of production (energetically 1000 times cheaper than plastic). And then there are the clever, self-assembling silk micro-winders that turn each of the thousands of droplets in the spider’s orb web into a water-powered winch. Last but not least, silks are bio-compatible and bio-degradable, which makes them perfect materials for regenerative medicine; a good example is nerve conduits able to bridge major injuries.
This talk shall explore the many uses of silks, and the cutting edge technology needed to study these outstanding materials. Given the setting of Jodrell Bank, the discussion might end by exploring whether spider web technology could be used to capture the floating debris of outer space.