Give spiders nanotubes to eat — get carbon-reinforced silk

Spider silk is one of the more extraordinary materials known to science. The protein fiber, spun by spiders to make webs, is stronger than almost anything that humans can make.

The dragline silk spiders use to make a web’s outer rim and spokes is amazing stuff. It matches high-grade alloy steel for tensile strength but is about a sixth as dense. It is also highly ductile, sometimes capable of stretching to five times its length.

This combination of strength and ductility makes spider silk extremely tough, matching the toughness of state-of-the-art carbon fibers such as Kevlar.

So it goes without saying that the ability to make spider silk even stronger and tougher would be a significant scientific coup. Which is why the work of Nicola Pugno at the University of Trento in Italy and a few pals is something of a jaw-dropper.

These guys have found a way to incorporate carbon nanotubes and graphene into spider silk and increase its strength and toughness beyond anything that has been possible before. The resulting material has properties such as fracture strength, Young’s modulus, and toughness modulus higher than anything ever measured.

The team’s approach is relatively straightforward. They started with 15 Pholcidae spiders, collected from the Italian countryside, which they kept in controlled conditions in their lab. They collected samples of dragline silk produced by these spiders as a reference.

The team then used a neat trick to introduce carbon nanotubes and graphene flakes into the spider silk. They simply sprayed the spiders with water containing the nanotubes or flakes and then measured the mechanical properties of the silk that the spiders produced…

In other words, giving spiders water that is infused with carbon nanotubes makes them weave silk stronger than any known fiber.

Woo-hoo. We have some fierce spider-critters here in New Mexico we should try this out on!

Squirrels are winning the cyberwar

On January 2nd, the power went out on the Lloyd Expressway, near Evansville, Indiana. The outage lasted 45 minutes, with a transformer damaged and stop lights turned off. The culprit? A squirrel.

The attack is just one of the latest tracked by the semi-satirical Cyber Squirrel 1 map. “This map”, according to its About section, “lists all unclassified Cyber Squirrel Operations that have been released to the public that we have been able to confirm. There are many more executed ops than displayed on this map however, those ops remain classified.” Based on data from a Twitter account dating back to at least March 2014, the map has been around since at least September 2015. It tracks power outages caused by squirrels, birds, raccoons, snakes, rats, beavers, and monkeys, as well as nations like China, Russia, and the United States. If there is a cyber war happening, it’s one fought between humanity and nature, not nations against each other.

Squirrel power outages

This is hardly the first attempt to use squirrels as a metaphor for exaggerated fears about cyber war. Before he was comparing the risk to planes from drones relative to turtles, Eli Dourado, an economist and technologist at the libertarian Mercatus Center, made a similar point about squirrels and power outages.

Like the Cyber Squirrel map, the argument reveals itself merely by the data points selected. Natural causes get in the way of technology a lot. Even successful cyber attacks, like the one that took out power in part of Ukraine last month, can so far only replicate damage that animals might do anyway.

OTOH, squirrels can be as territorial – and stupid about being territorial – as any Congressional chickenhawk.

Squatty Potty commercial

This Unicorn shows the effects of improper toilet posture and how it can affect your health. The Squatty Potty toilet stool has been featured on predictable pop TV shows…

“Pooping will never be the same” is the tag these folks use. Which is probably effective among potential American consumers – who don’t know that this is the appropriate pooping style in a significant chunk of the world.

Not only that, squatting was how you pooped in many European nations until the loo became a place to read and reflect beyond simple bodily functions – after World War 2. My first travels in Europe almost a half-century ago introduced me to the difference between what was a locally-acceptable toilet and what was called an “English toilet”.

Same as it ever was.

GMTA, thanks, Ursarodinia and more