Saturday, 21 April 2012

More Design in Nature

The spider’s web has superior mechanical properties. Image courtesy of

Joel Kontinen

It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid seeing design in nature, and optimal design to boot. A recent letter in the journal Nature on the hidden strength of spider silk is a good example of this.

The letter had the expressions “exquisite designs that optimize function” and “superior mechanical properties” in the same paragraph:

Natural materials are renowned for exquisite designs that optimize function, as illustrated by the elasticity of blood vessels, the toughness of bone and the protection offered by nacre. Particularly intriguing are spider silks, with studies having explored properties ranging from their protein sequence to the geometry of a web. This material system, highly adapted to meet a spider’s many needs, has superior mechanical properties.” [internal references omitted]

The letter suggests that a spider’s web is so efficient and well-designed that the principles spiders use should be utilised in engineering.


Cranford, Steven W., Anna Tarakanova, Nicola M. Pugno and Markus J. Buehler. Nonlinear material behaviour of spider silk yields robust webs. Nature 482 (7383), 72–76.