Biomimetic File 178: Spider Silk Armor

Why there is always a few paths to a solution


Image Source: Matusiac Alexandru, Shutterstock 

Highlight: “The US Army is working with companies to develop a new resistant material…possibly the far superior successor to Kevlar, the bulletproof, life-saving material worn by combatants the world over – and it is made from spider silk, one of the strongest natural fibers known to science…Although spiders themselves normally produce this, making a cost-effective spider silk farm is notoriously difficult. After all, they don’t continuously produce silk, and certainly not enough to be harvested…Their transgenic silkworms have been producing a composite silk – as strong as spider silk but far easier to produce…The main advantage of this material over Kevlar is that it’s far more flexible and at least 10 times as elastic. Kevlar is essentially inflexible, whereas Dragon Silk could be wrapped around a variety of complex shapes.”

Insight: The process of deciding where to draw the line in terms of cultivating natural systems or shifting to re-engineered processes can be difficult. Both can offer significant advantages over the other such as cost effectiveness by relying on species do do the work or consistency in output of the engineered product (e.g. precise consistent dimension).

The answer is probably a combination of the two; the future of manufacturing relies in more dependency on natural systems combined with engineered elements to improve upon the natural processes (and not to replace it altogether!). As a matter of fact, the full replacement of natural systems by engineered processes is often (if not always) an exaggerated simplification.

A point to make here is that in life when faced with confusion, often the solution is neither A or B but a combination of some kind and the source of the problem is often part of the solution.

More information: here 

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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