Spiders Lighten the Soldier’s Load

Spider Web

More flexible than nylon and tougher than Kevlar, Air Force researchers think spider silk could help to create new, lighter weight materials for gear used, carried, or worn in the field. Scientists at the Air Force Research Lab and Purdue University began by examining natural silk’s ability to regulate temperature — as it can drop 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit through passive radiative cooling, which means it radiates more heat than it absorbs.

This property, combined with its strength and flexibility, means the use of natural silk could be used to create more comfortable uniforms and body armor, lighter yet more heavy-duty parachute material, and tents that are not only lighter to transport but absorb less heat. The result is a cooler and more comfortable soldier. The biggest issue right now is that natural spider silk is difficult to obtain and artificial spider silk costs twice as much as alternative materials such as Kevlar.

Another naturally-sourced material being considered is Fibroin, which is produced by silkworms. Although not as durable as spider silk, it does offer the ability to reflect, absorb, focus, or split light under different circumstances. Instead of armor, applications would focus on camouflage.

 

Image Credit: Anton Watman/Shutterstock.com

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