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Spider silk morphology for responsive materials

  • Juan Guan (a1), David Porter (a1) and Fritz Vollrath (a1)


This study reveals that an “old” mechanism for shape memory in oriented polymers is in fact just one separate contribution for “supercontraction” in Nephila spider major ampulate silks. When Nephila spider silks are in contact with liquid water, they “super”-contract up to 28% of the original stretched length. However, we discovered that under glass transition conditions these silks only relax with a maximum shrinkage of 13%, and this phenomenon is defined as T g -contraction. Structural components permanent order (PO), permanent disorder (PD), meta order (MO) and meta disorder (MD) were proposed from the primary amino-acid sequence of the silk protein to explain morphological changes in the two contraction phenomena: MD contributes 13% of the full supercontraction and contributes to T g -contraction; whereas MO (the proline-containing motifs) contributes the rest for the full super-contraction and does not contribute to T g -contraction. The morphology in Nephila spider silk structure suggests two separate mechanisms to generate the shape memory effect in synthetic polymers.


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