Spider silk microstructure found to have unique acoustic properties

Researchers have learned another thing about spider silk, and as with past discoveries, it may lead to the development of new materials for use among humans. This time around, a group of researchers from Rice University and beyond busied themselves with studying the microstructure of spider webs, doing so to learn how they transmit phonons — that is, quasiparticles of sound. As it turns out, spider silk possesses something called a phonon band gap.

Using this phonon band gap, the spider silk is able to block specific frequencies of phonon waves; this is a first as far as biological materials go, and is an exciting discovery because of the promise it holds for future synthetic materials based on it. These man-made materials could use the same basic structure to create materials for thermal and sound insulation, among other things; the materials could even be "tunable" to target specific frequencies.

Researchers aren't sure what spiders do with this silk property, though future research will likely lend clues. Scientists believe this structural property may adjust incoming sounds in such a way that the spider who made the web can understand them, gleaning information about nearby critters or events, bugs that have landed on its web, and more. As well, the structures could also help reduce sounds.

Depending on how greatly strained a piece of spider silk is, it will dampen specific auditory frequencies, only allowing certain sounds to make their way to the spider. Depending on how the silk is handling noises, it could also deal with thermal waves and, in some cases, focused hypersonic phonons.

SOURCE: ScienceDaily