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"Stick-Two-Ative" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Scientists at the University of Akron discover that spiders' design mastery allows them to create webs that stick to the ground and to elevated surfaces differently.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:


I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

University of Akron biologists and polymer scientists aren't creeped out by spiders--they're intrigued and even inspired by them. In particular, a trait they discovered that spiders demonstrate when creating webs. You might call it 'spidey sense.' If you're a spider, you have two different kinds of prey: Flying meals and crawling ones. So you can employ two different strategies with your web.

To catch insects flying at high velocity, (Sound effect: sound) the spider creates super sticky adhesive disks, which firmly anchor webs to ceilings and vertical surfaces. To nab those ground-bound bugs (Sound effect: sound), it makes adhesive discs with weak attachments, that snap away from the ground and leave prey suspended in the air. By the way, a spider only makes one kind of glue--how does it work for both applications?

The researchers believe that these two degrees of adhesion have nothing to do with the chemical makeup of the glue, but rather the spinning behaviors of the spider. They're studying this key natural design principle to see if we can emulate it in beneficial applications. Everything from industrial-strength tape to adhesives strong enough to bind sutures to heal a fractured shoulder yet delicate enough for 'ouch-free' bandages.

Who ever thought we'd be learning web apps from a spider?

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