Spider Silk May Inspire Better Semiconductors
Thom Leavy
at 10:14 AM Jul 27 2016
A spiderweb in autumn
Wikimedia Commons

Audiophiles and renewable energy wonks, rejoice. Arachnophobes, brace yourselves: recent studies published in Nature Materials may lead to spider silk inspired materials to manipulate sound and heat much as semiconductors manipulate electrons, according to Phys.org.

The research, conducted collaboratively at Rice University in Europe and in Singapore, made a breakthrough in showing for the first time that spider silk has a phonon band gap. Phonons are a quantum of a soundwave and a quasiparticle that can behave like electrons in a semiconductor, while band gaps are the energy difference between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the semiconductor conduction band.

"Phononic crystals give you the ability to manipulate sound waves, and if you get sound small enough and at high enough frequencies, you're talking about heat," Rice Engineering's Dean Edwin Thomas points out. "Being able to make heat flow this way and not that way, or make it so it can't flow at all, means you're turning a material into a thermal insulator that wasn't one before." It's the kind of function that has emerged in the super thin material research of late, like the development of a filter that can convert photons into phonons, or light into sound.

Nonlinear high-frequency photon control research contains important findings to discover in the age of hyper-fine materials like graphene, a superconductive two dimensional material with band gap issues. Spider silk's microstructures could help with the goal of encouraging band gap formation. It's properties can also be replicated to test elasticity and sound in similar polymers.

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