Natural Silk as an Eco-friendly Alternative in Optics
Pound for pound, the natural silk that spiders use as drag-line is stronger than steel. It is known to be one of the most elegant and exceptional materials in nature, featuring both high tensile strength and ductility in a rare combination. Now, ENN reports that scientists are studying another unique characteristic of silk: its optical properties.
Recent discovery of natural silk’s promising optical properties has led researchers to consider it as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional light manipulating material such as glass and plastic fiber optic cables. The range of possible applications that silk opens up to science in the field of optics are intriguing: photonic chips, bio-sensors with spider silk, implantable optics, compostable lasers, and others.
ENN reports that two independent teams of researchers are studying natural silk’s photonic potential and will present their discoveries at Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2012, an annual event by the organization optical Society (OSA). Fio 2012 is OSA’s 96th Annual Meeting which will aim to give light on the latest breakthroughs on optics and photonics through presentations and guest speakers during the five-day event.
Nolwenn Huby, a physicist at the CNRS Institut de Physiques de Rennes, France, will discuss her group’s work using pristine silk from spiders to act as light guiding materials in photonic chips. Huby and her team hope that the technology would lead to bio-sensors based on spider silk and other imaging devices that can be used inside the body in medical applications.
Fiorenzo Omenetto, a biomedical engineer at Tufts University in Boston, will talk about his team’s progress in using silk’s optical properties for biology-technology interfaces such as implantable sensors. Omenetto had spoken about silk as a promising material in a TED conference, where he outlined more than twenty possible applications: vein/bone replacement, edible sensor, sustainable material for disposable products, and many others. Omenetto also demonstrated in the conference how silk could be used in electronics, gears and parts, and photonics. He described silk in his presentation as sustainable, biodegradable with a clock, edible, and implantable within the human body without immunological responses. He also likens silk as a material comparable to liquid Kevlar.
OSA reports in its press release that Omenetto plans to develop silk-based, plastic-like material that could be used to implant a sensor made of silk protein and which would dissolve harmlessly afterwards in the body, biodegradability timed.
Huby’s team is also working on pure spider silk as an alternative to glass microfibers, which needs high levels of energy and resources to manufacture. It could also be potentially used in bio-sensors to couple light unto parts of the microchip, due to its ability to direct light. Intriguingly, Huby’s team is considering using spider silk as a light source to take pictures inside the body. Pristine strands of spider silk could be used to convey light into the body as a less invasive method of internal imaging.
Though both teams still have steps ahead of them before silk-based optics materials can be implemented in different applications and made commercially available, the ancient silk seems poised to be one of the most promising eco-friendly, alternative optics material of the future.
Reasons to JOIN US include:
- It's absolutely FREE!
- Get Green Tips You MUST know about.
- How to's on going green, saving money, and having fun.
- Keep up-to-date on our posts in cased you missed them.