Spider Silk Could Be Used as Robotic Muscle

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Spider silk, already known as one of the strongest materials for its weight, turns out to have another unusual property that might lead to new kinds of artificial muscles or robotic actuators, researchers have found.

Spider silk, already known as one of the strongest materials for its weight, turns out to have another unusual property that might lead to new kinds of artificial muscles or robotic actuators, researchers have found.

The resilient fibers, the team discovered, respond very strongly to changes in humidity. Above a certain level of relative humidity in the air, they suddenly contract and twist, exerting enough force to potentially be competitive with other materials being explored as actuators β€” devices that move to perform some activity such as controlling a valve.

The findings are being reported today in the journal Science Advances, in a paper by MIT Professor Markus Buehler, head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, along with former postdoc Anna Tarakanova and undergraduate student Claire Hsu at MIT; Dabiao Liu, an associate professor at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China; and six others.

Researchers recently discovered a property of spider silk called supercontraction, in which the slender fibers can suddenly shrink in response to changes in moisture. The new finding is that not only do the threads contract, they also twist at the same time, providing a strong torsional force. β€œIt’s a new phenomenon,” Buehler says.

Read more at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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