Spider silk is one of the world’s strongest natural materials. Graphene is a super material with many amazing uses. So, oddly, scientists decided to combine the two by spraying spiders with the carbon-based wonder material—and the results were surprisingly impressive.

It sounds like something out a high school science fair or twisted sci-fi film, but scientists from the University of Trento in Italy did literally decide to simply spray spiders from the Pholcidae family with graphne and carbon nanotubes to see what happened, reports New Scientist. While some of the treated spiders produced webs of a lower grade than usual, the team found that some produced silk that was an amazing 3.5 times tougher and stronger than the best naturally produced silk, that of the giant riverine orb spider. In fact it was the nanotubes that provided the highest performing materials.

It’s not clear what happened to silk to provide the extra strength. One hypothesis is that the graphene and nanotubes coated the outside of the strands; another is that the carbon materials leached into the spider and became incorporated into the silk they produced. Regardless of how it works, it’s not without risk for the spiders: four of them died after being sprayed, before they could even spin any silk. So while the technique of imbuing spiders with strength-giving materials is oddly promising, it requires some work before it can be used reliably to create new forms of super silk. [arXiv via New Scientist]

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