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Better techniques for collecting water from the air could be possible with the discovery of why spiders’ webs are so effective at catching the morning dew.
Chinese researchers studying the silk of the spider Uloborus walckenaerius found that dry spider silk has a "necklace-like" structure of fibres connecting "puffs" of tiny, randomly arranged fibres.
When water condenses onto these puffs, they form tightly-packed knots, rougher than the smooth ‘joint’ fibres that connect them. When a water droplet condenses, it slides along the smooth joint to its nearest knot where it coalesces with others to form a larger drop.
To test whether this structure was responsible for the effective water-catching, the scientists created artificial silk using nylon fibres coated in a polymer solution that forms knots in a similar way. They say their findings could lead to new materials for collecting water from air.
Spider silk expert Brent Opell, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States, calls the scientists’ ability to reproduce the properties of the silk "impressive".
Link to full paper in Nature[1.11MB]
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