Silkworms that feed on carbon nanotubes or graphene can produce stronger and tougher silk.
Silk produced by silkworms or caterpillars is already a strong, soft lustrous fabric. However, scientists have been experimenting with different techniques to make its thread even stronger and after years of research, they have finally found a way as well.
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Silkworms feeding on graphene and carbon nanotubes can spit out fiber that is twice as strong as regular silk. Moreover, the carbon reinforced silk can conduct electricity, which could otherwise not possible with normal silk. This fiber will have implications for durable fabrics, wearable electronics and biodegradable medical implants.
To make carbon-reinforced silk, researchers Tsinghua University fed silkworms mulberry leaves sprayed with solutions containing 0.2% the weight of either carbon nanotubes or graphene. Then, fiber was collected after the worm spun its cocoon and thread and fabric was made just as done in standard silk production.
According to Scientific American, the resulted product is far stronger than conventional silk and can withstand at least 50 percent higher stress before breaking.
“Silkworm silk is gaining significant attention from both the textile industry and research society because of its outstanding mechanical properties and lustrous appearance. The possibility of creating tougher silks attracts particular research interest,” authors wrote in journal Nano Letters.
“In this work, we report mechanically enhanced silk directly collected by feeding Bombyx mori larval silkworms with single-walled carbon nanotubes and graphene. We found that the parts of fed carbon nanomaterials were incorporated into the as-spun silk fibers, whereas the others went into the excrement of silkworms.”
However, it’s unclear exactly how the nanomaterials are incorporated into the silk or how much carbon or graphene these worms need to produce the desirable thread or if it has any negative effect on worm itself.
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Nevertheless, researchers believe that this new breakthrough could lead to the large-scale production of silks with added strength and other remarkable properties.