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Spinning a Good Yarn: Why Silk is Much More Than Just a Fibre
Tue 7 March 2017, 18:45 – 20:00 GMT
If we wish to harness the power of silk we must first understand it. Understanding means not only knowing the relevant proteins but also knowing their function and, importantly, their structure - property relationships. Silk proteins have been patented by many research groups and companies and been expressed in bacteria, plants and animals. But no one, to our knowledge, has succeeded in successfully configuring, i.e., spinning those proteins into anything resembling the natural fibre neither in its microstructure (which is rather complex) nor in its mechanical properties (which are outstanding). And here is a gap in our present knowledge as it is processing that defines a silk, for unlike all other biological materials they are spun, not grown. Silks are biological polymers that have evolved to be processed by controlled protein denaturation, a process with many similarities to flow induced polymer crystallisation. We believe there is more to silk than just a fibre and by taking inspiration from natural silk processing we find that Nature may hold unique solutions to the current challenges facing the synthetic polymer industry, i.e. routes towards low embodied energy, sustainable wet processing of polymers. This presentation will provide an overview of Natures 400 million years of R&D into silk and our recent studies into the importance of processing in this fascinating material.