Fritz Vollrath (Oxford University)

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Séminaire du laboratoire Gulliver
Contact : Mathilde Reyssat

16 septembre 2013 11:15 » 12:15 — Bibliothèque PCT - F3.04

Unravelling Spider’ Silks

In silks, proteins are the structural components and water is the solvent. Protein and water combine and separate - under ambient pressures and temperatures - to make the silk thread, which can be so tough that it outperforms even the best man-made fibres. Spider silk is a case in point for outstanding mechanical performance and hence an excellent starting material in the quest to unravel animal silks and their many trade-secrets.

The tools we use to study silks are all based on comprehensive biological understanding and include the ’mining’ for natural silks with interesting properties in combination with state-of-the-art experimental analysis and polymer modeling. Such studies provide us with novel insights into the behaviour of silk proteins and their interaction with water, the great modifier of material properties.

So far, these studies have lead us to a number of important discoveries ranging from tunable nano-scale composite structures (that absorb energy hydro-electrically) to complex self-assembling micro-machines (that absorb energy mechanically) all the way to the building of complex webs cleverly engineered to absorb energy aerodynamically. All these ways-and-means are the works Nature’s ’Design by Evolution’, which is a powerful albeit rather time consuming process, to create and fabricate highly functional - and energy efficient - materials, devices and systems.

But silks are not only interesting as highly evolved natural materials but seem to have a bright future both as models to guide our understanding of energy efficient bio-polymers but also as prototype models to guide the design of totally novel polymer systems be it for medicine or engineering.

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