Date of Award:
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Randolph V. Lewis
Spider-silk is known as one of the stronger natural materials, unfortunately it is impossible to farm spiders due to their territorial and cannibalistic nature. To address this issue, researchers have studied spider-silk to discover how it is produced in nature. From their results, spider-silk is composed of large sized proteins produced in two different cell types. Using this knowledge, researchers created transgenic organisms capable of producing spider-silk proteins in large quantities. Using these proteins, several groups have created fibers, films, hydrogels, and adhesives with robust and versatile properties.
Wet-spinning is a technique commonly used to create fibers from spider-silk proteins. These fibers unfortunately do not compare to the mechanical properties of natural silk. To address this researchers have used a method known as electrospinning to create spider-silk fibers with substantially smaller diameters. In doing so, these electrospun fibers have increased surface area and enhanced mechanical properties. Using this method, our group has modified the electrospinner to be able to produce continuous fine diameter yarns composed of hundreds of nanofibers with mechanical properties surpassing that of natural silk.
Fibers aside, spider-silk proteins can be used to create a variety of different biocompatible materials. To further enhance these materials, our group has utilized a technique traditionally used for observation. This technique employs a high intensity light source to initiate cross-links within the proteins. With this method, our spider-silk protein materials have increased their mechanical properties by a factor of seven. These materials can further be modified through post-treatments, resulting in tunable materials with diverse and robust mechanical properties.
Gil, Dan, "Enhancing Spider-Silk Protein Materials through Continuous Electrospinning and Photo-Initiated Cross-Linking" (2018). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 7254.
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