Stronger than Silk

Eat pencil lead, silkworms! Literally!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Silks are used in many things, from bedding to bike tires to kimonos. How could we make these better? Stronger fibers!

But how can you get a silkworm to spin extra strong fibers? Yingying Zhang and her group at Tsinghua University followed the silk road.

It turns out, the answer lies on the tip of a pencil. Take that pencil tip, apply scotch tape, and rip it off. What do you find? Flat sheets of graphene!

The researchers coated the silkworm’s food with nano-sized sheets of graphene rolled into tubes. When the worms spun their silk, the fibers were naturally combined with nanotubes.
The result? Graphene-enhanced silk strands, twice as strong as normal silk! And, after being baked, they could conduct electricity. This could be useful for future applications like exercise monitors sewn into clothes.

Or, for us lazy people, a comfy super-strong hammock. Bon appetite, silkworms. Chow on!