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J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2011 Jul;4(5):658-69. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2010.09.008. Epub 2010 Sep 25.

The hidden link between supercontraction and mechanical behavior of spider silks.

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Departamento de Ciencia de Materiales, ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain.


The remarkable properties of spider silks have stimulated an increasing interest in understanding the roles of their composition and processing, as well as in the mass-production of these fibers. Previously, the variability in the mechanical properties of natural silk fibers was a major drawback in the elucidation of their behavior, but the authors have found that supercontraction of these fibers allows one to characterize and reproduce the whole range of tensile properties in a consistent way. The purpose of this review is to summarize these findings. After a review of the pertinent mechanical properties, the role of supercontraction in recovering and tailoring the tensile properties is explained, together with an alignment parameter to characterize silk fibers. The concept of the existence of a mechanical ground state is also mentioned. These behaviors can be modeled, and two such models-at the molecular and macroscopic levels-are briefly outlined. Finally, the assessment of the existence of supercontraction in bio-inspired fibers is considered, as this property may have significant consequences in the design and production of artificial fibers.

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