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Nonlinear control of high-frequency phonons in spider silk


Spider dragline silk possesses superior mechanical properties1,2 compared with synthetic polymers with similar chemical structure due to its hierarchical structure comprised of partially crystalline oriented nanofibrils3,4. To date, silk’s dynamic mechanical properties have been largely unexplored. Here we report an indirect hypersonic phononic bandgap and an anomalous dispersion of the acoustic-like branch from inelastic (Brillouin) light scattering experiments under varying applied elastic strains. We show the mechanical nonlinearity of the silk structure generates a unique region of negative group velocity, that together with the global (mechanical) anisotropy provides novel symmetry conditions for gap formation5,6,7,8. The phononic bandgap and dispersion show strong nonlinear strain-dependent behaviour. Exploiting material nonlinearity along with tailored structural anisotropy could be a new design paradigm to access new types of dynamic behaviour.

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Figure 1: Access to the mechanical properties along and normal to the spider dragline fibre.
Figure 2: The effect of strain on the dispersion diagram and the mechanical anisotropy of native and supercontracted fibres.
Figure 3: BLS spectra and dispersion diagrams of the native spider dragline silk and regenerated silk.


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The work was partially supported by Aristeia Program-285 (EU, GSRT-Greece), ERC-AdG-694977, SFB TRR102 and the DFG (Grant No. BU 1556/27).

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Authors and Affiliations



D.S. and N.G. contributed equally to the BLS measurements. P.P. fabricated the samples. C.Y.K. developed the theoretical description of the dispersion diagrams. G.F. planned the project and wrote most of the article; C.Y.K., P.P., F.K. and E.L.T. corrected and finalized it. All authors have discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to George Fytas.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Schneider, D., Gomopoulos, N., Koh, C. et al. Nonlinear control of high-frequency phonons in spider silk. Nature Mater 15, 1079–1083 (2016).

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