Copying What Comes Naturally

Scientists are creating revolutionary new materials by imitating the weave and structure of biological designs

A cobweb glistening with dew seems as fragile as it is lovely. But one day soon, predicts University of Wyoming biologist Randy Lewis, man-made analogues of spider silk will be put to an astonishing variety of heavy-duty uses, from reinforcing fibers in aircraft doors to body-hugging suits for downhill skiers. Over the past four years, Lewis has played the attentive host to dozens of fist-size spiders called golden orb weavers, housing them in Plexiglas condominiums, feeding them a daily diet of flies and, every now and then, flipping them on their backs to unravel yards of gossamer thread. The ambitious goal...

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