Spiders spin unique phononic material
New discoveries about spider silk could inspire novel materials to manipulate sound and heat in the same way semiconducting circuits manipulate electrons, according to scientists at Rice University, in Europe and in Singapore.
A paper in Nature Materials today looks at the microscopic structure of spider silk and reveals unique characteristics in the way it transmits phonons, quasiparticles of sound.
The research shows for the first time that spider silk has a phonon band gap. That means it can block phonon waves in certain frequencies in the same way an electronic band gap - the basic property of semiconducting materials - allows some electrons to pass and stops others.
The researchers wrote that their observation is the first discovery of a "hypersonic phononic band gap in a biological material."
How the spider uses this property remains to be understood, but there are clear implications for materials, according to materials scientist and Rice Engineering Dean Edwin Thomas, who co-authored the paper. He suggested that the crystalline microstructure of spider silk might be replicated in other polymers. That could enable tunable, dynamic metamaterials like phonon waveguides and novel sound or thermal insulation, since heat propagates through solids via phonons.
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Spider web via Schmidt / U.S. National Park Service