Florida State University researcher Eden Steven collected silk from a type of golden orb-weaver spider, coated it with a polarized powder of carbon nanotubes, added a little water, pressed the whole thing between two sheets of Teflon, and allowed it to dry. The result is a super-tough composite that’s both flexible and electrically conductive. Different humidity levels cause it to expand or contract, which makes it easy to manipulate around wires. In addition, the material is “sensitive enough to detect the electrical signals from a heart pulse.”
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What’s the Big Idea?
Scientists have combined spider silk with other conductive materials, such as gold, but the hybrid wasn’t as stretchy or flexible. Not only does Steven’s method result in something that can be used in a wide range of bendable sensors, it’s surprisingly simple, says MIT bioengineer Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli: “It looks like something you could do in your kitchen at home…These results open new opportunities in moulding and shaping actuators or sensors, where you could potentially think about different geometries or forms.” One big challenge involves scaling up spider silk production, but synthetic silk could become a possible substitute.