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Surprising Science

How Spider Webs Inspire New Technology

Nature always seems to get it right first. New research and computer modelling carried out at MIT suggest spider webs could inspire advances in engineering and online security.

What’s the Latest Development?

A team of MIT researchers who recently examined spider webs says the amazing work of nature could improve various human systems, including Internet security and how buildings are designed. Pound-for-pound, the silk which spiders spin is stronger than steel yet it retains a flexibility that is very ‘flaw-tolerant’. If one section of the web malfunctions, i.e. is torn away by a bug, the larger integrity of the structure remains. This may help encourage engineers to examine the use of more complex materials when making new designs.

What’s the Big Idea?

Spider web research may affect real world systems such as how buildings are constructed in earthquake zones. Current designs seek to preserve the structural integrity of the entire building, meaning it must be razed and rebuilt if damaged, but a building of the future may collapse one vulnerable area to preserve the rest. These ‘sacrificial elements’ could also benefit networking systems. Were a computer to contract a virus, for example, the affected area could shut down immediately before infecting the rest of the network.

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