Silkworm silk production has long been famous for its strength and beauty when applied to textile and other materials. To upgrade its quality, scientists were able to make carbon-enhanced silk that is super strong and conducive to electricity.
Researchers, led by Yingying Zhang, from the Tsinghua University found a way of enhancing the strength of silk. The method was quite simple, yet remarkable, which involves the addition of graphene in the silkworm’s diet.
Enhanced Silk Fibers
Silk is a natural protein fiber that is mostly woven into textiles. The beauty of these woven gossamer threads, coupled with its mechanical strength, has made it popular in the textile industry.
The artisans behind this timeless fabric are the silkworms that mostly feed on mulberry leaves. When the researchers got the idea of adding graphene, a carbon allotrope that shows super strength and called a “miracle material,” the silkworm silk production has progressed into a whole other level.
The mulberry leaves eaten by silkworms were sprayed with aqueous solutions that comprise of 0.2 percent by weight of graphene or carbon nanotubes. This is a simpler method than treating the silk with the nanomaterials as silk are collected after they are spun by the silkworms in their cocoons.
Applications for Futuristic Wearable Tech
The enhanced silk showed increased strength of up to 50 percent higher resistance to breaking than the regular ones. Silk is also known for its shimmering appearance because of its triangular prism-like structure that refracts light from various angles. With the modified silk, microscopic imaging showed the structure of its crystals is more ordered.
Moreover, the carbon-enhanced silk is also found to be conducive to electricity with its fibers tested at 1,050°C. This paves the way to many futuristic applications – from biomechanics to an electronic clothing that can communicate to our smartphones. With the scale of the silkworm silk production easily being mass-produced, a wearable tech is now closer to reach.