In a centuries old customs of tweaking the quality of silk, researchers have recently made a breakthrough as a change in the silkworm diet led to a new, stronger type of silk.
The Chinese researchers, the ones responsible for the achievement, completely changed the worms’ normal feeding nature as their test subjects were fed with graphene and carbon nanotubes.
The silk produced by the respective silkworms, which was called “super-silk” was demonstrated to be stronger than the worms’ usual product, and more durable thanks also to its tougher thread.
Silk, as a material, has a centuries-old story in relation to humans and has ever since then been used worldwide. It is no surprise, then, that textile manufacturers have come up with a variety of methods for increasing their product’s quality through a variety of means, usually in accordance with the days’ technology.
Until the most recent breakthrough, manufacturers would add antimicrobial components and dyes in order to change their silk fibers. The Chinese scientists took this practice one step higher as their modification in the silkworm diet led to a change in thread quality accomplished by the worms themselves.
The dietary modification is carried out in the earliest stages of the silkworm’s formation when the silk-spinners are still in their larvae stage. As animal digestion is still being studied, the way in which nanocarbons are transferred and incorporated into the silk is as yet unknown, but results have shown both its presence and its attributes in the new “super-silk”.
The threads were put through a variety of tests that sought to determine their quality and the results were more than pleasing. The new type of silk has a 50 percent higher level of stress endurance before breaking, as compared to usual threads. The high-temperature heat test also revealed the silk’s electrical conductibility, which would point to the thread’s ability to conduct the current.
This could prove to be a very valuable new asset, as team leader Yingying Zhang advanced the possibility of using “super-silk” in the medical domain as sensors or medical implants. The team further declared that a successful generation of graphene-fed silkworms could come to start a whole new area of high-strength super-silk large-scale production.
Graphene, the carbon atoms layer accountable for the advance, is in itself a very strong substance and could also lead to advances in biomedical sensors, aircrafts, and fundamental quantum physics.
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