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Non-invasive determination of the complete elastic moduli of spider silks


Spider silks possess nature’s most exceptional mechanical properties, with unrivalled extensibility and high tensile strength. Unfortunately, our understanding of silks is limited because the complete elastic response has never been measured—leaving a stark lack of essential fundamental information. Using non-invasive, non-destructive Brillouin light scattering, we obtain the entire stiffness tensors (revealing negative Poisson’s ratios), refractive indices, and longitudinal and transverse sound velocities for major and minor ampullate spider silks: Argiope aurantia, Latrodectus hesperus, Nephila clavipes, Peucetia viridans. These results completely quantify the linear elastic response for all possible deformation modes, information unobtainable with traditional stress–strain tests. For completeness, we apply the principles of Brillouin imaging to spatially map the elastic stiffnesses on a spider web without deforming or disrupting the web in a non-invasive, non-contact measurement, finding variation among discrete fibres, junctions and glue spots. Finally, we provide the stiffness changes that occur with supercontraction.

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Figure 1: Experimental Brillouin scattering data of spider silk.
Figure 2: Non-invasive spatial map of mechanical properties of spider web.
Figure 3: Stiffness changes in N. clavipes silk with supercontraction.


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J.L.Y. would like to acknowledge spider silk research support from the Department of Defense, AFOSR (FA9550-10-1-0275) and the US National Science Foundation (CHE-1011937).

Author information




K.J.K. and J.L.Y. designed the experiments and wrote this manuscript. P.A. and J.L.Y. provided samples. K.J.K., P.A., K.M. and J.L.Y. performed the experiments. K.J.K. analysed the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeffery L. Yarger.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Koski, K., Akhenblit, P., McKiernan, K. et al. Non-invasive determination of the complete elastic moduli of spider silks. Nature Mater 12, 262–267 (2013).

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