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Along came a spider…

Cat Watching a Spider, 19th Century. Ôide Tôkô, Japanese. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

A team led by Xinwei Wang, an Iowa State associate professor of mechanical engineering, has been doing some exacting research into the heat-conducting properties of spider silk. They have found that, unlike most other organic materials, spider silk is a very good conductor–only diamond and silver do a better job. Also spider silk conducts heat better when it’s stretched.

What Wang and his research team found was that spider silks – particularly the draglines that anchor webs in place – conduct heat better than most materials, including very good conductors such as silicon, aluminum and pure iron. Spider silk also conducts heat 1,000 times better than woven silkworm silk and 800 times better than other organic tissues.

And there are many potential practical uses.

[T]hat could lead to spider silk helping to create flexible, heat-dissipating parts for electronics, better clothes for hot weather, bandages that don’t trap heat and many other everyday applications.

A researcher in Japan created violin strings using thousands of strands of silk from 300 female Nephila maculata spiders.

Under an electron microscope, each string appeared to be perfectly round due to the fact that the strands are pressed snugly together, leaving no space between them. That snug fit probably gives the strings their strength—they are stronger than traditional aluminum-coated, nylon-core strings, BBC News reported—as well as their unique tone, said Osaki. The strings make “a soft and profound timbre,” according to a description of the violin, soon to be published in Physical Review Letters.

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