Do Natural Silks Make Good Engineering Materials?


Fast relaxation of stresses lower than the yield stress is demonstrated in Bombyx mori(silkworm) cocoon silk and Nephila clavipes (spider) major ampullate silk (MAS; dragline). Stress relaxation and creep make natural silk unsuitable as a long-term load-bearing material. Instead, silk-like materials are better suited to applications in which energy dissipation is important, and in which high loads need to be withstood on a once-off basis for only very short periods of time. Examples might include use as a ballistic material that arrests the penetration of fragments from the explosion of a pressure vessel, an aircraft luggage container, or a tyre. Treatment in a domestic microwave oven is shown to significantly reduce the rate of stress relaxation in both silkworm cocoon and spider MAS. Except for ductility, the tensile properties of cocoon silk measured in constant strain rate experiments are enhanced by this treatment. Initial experiments on MAS suggest that the tensile properties of this material also are enhanced by exposure to microwaves, in this case with the exception of initial modulus.

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The authors are grateful for support from Heriot-Watt University (Studentship awarded to FIB), the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (Vacation Scholarship for Undergraduates awarded to JR), and The Nuffield Foundation (Undergraduate Bursary awarded to CS).

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Correspondence to Christopher Viney.

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Morrison, N.A., Bell, F.I., Beautrait, A. et al. Do Natural Silks Make Good Engineering Materials?. MRS Online Proceedings Library 823, W8.4 (2004).

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