icon-silk.jpgSilks are natural polymers with outstanding properties. Some spider silks are tougher than the toughest synthetic polymers and even outperform steel in terms of strength by weight. Also, because it is a biocompatible protein, silk is ideally suited for use in biomedical applications and environmentally friendly.

The outstanding properties of silk are due to its interesting structure, featuring a peculiar organization down to molecular scales. We apply our imaging techniques to spider and silkworm silk protein to provide unprecedented insights into assembly at single-molecule resolutions. This knowledge will help develop new processes to make silks artificially: novel materials that are environmentally benign and feature excellent mechanical properties.

Our lab also studies the brown recluse spider, which spins a thin ribbon of silk instead of a cylindrical strand typical of other species. By applying our imaging and various characterization techniques to this ribbon morphology, we are able to reveal its novel structural, adhesive, and mechanical properties in an unprecedented fashion. The thin ribbon shape of brown recluse silk grants us an easier system to study the origin of the appealing properties offered by natural silk materials. The information obtained from brown recluse silk will help us manufacture artificial thin silk films with the impressive properties of a native brown recluse strand.

Our Lab's Major Breakthroughs in Silk Research

We were the first ever to...

Our Silk Research in the Media

On TV, Video, and Radio Interviews

February 2019 12-minute radio feature of our silk research titled Bulletproof Spider Silk. Aired Feb. 15 on NPR's show “With Good Reason” hosted by Sarah McConnell. (Episode Link)
November 2018 Science Magazine produced a video featuring our recent breakthrough on the nanofibrillar structure of spider silk on Nov. 20. (Link to Video)
Mar 2017 The U.S. National Science Foundation produces a video feature of our breakthrough on the loops of the brown recluse spider in their Science Now—Science 360 show (Episode 50). thum_nsf.jpg
Feb 2017 Discovery Channel Canada airs a TV feature of our brown recluse looped silk discovery in their science show Daily Planet (7:00 pm show on February 15). thum_dailyplanet.jpg
Feb 2017 The Daily Press has a video feature on our silk research. daily_press_thumb.jpg
Feb 2017 BBC radio interview: On Feb. 20, the BBC aired a 5-minute radio interview with Prof. Schniepp on the group's recent breakthough on the looped recluse silk. Now available here (The Naked Scientists).
Feb 2017 ABC Australia radio interview: On Feb. 24, the BBC interview was also aired on the other side of the world. Now available here (The Naked Scientists).
Feb 2017 The Naked Scientists, a British science podcast, features Prof. Schniepp's BBC interview on their web page, including a written story and images: link.
Sep 2015 Video Interview: The Daily Press talks to Prof. Schniepp on the group's latest research on silkworm silk. thum_dailypress.jpg
Mar 2014 Discovery Channel Canada airs a TV feature of our brown recluse silk project in their science show Daily Planet (7:00 pm show on March 10). thum_dailyplanet.jpg
Mar 2014 William & Mary produces the 4-minute video story "In the lab: 'Milking' brown recluse spiders for silk" about our work on brown recluse spider silk. thum_milkingvideo.jpg
Oct 2013 Daily Press Video Interview: Interview with Prof. Schniepp about our research on the recluse spider silk. This is goes along with their long article, accompanied with pictures. thum_dailypress.jpg

In Print Media

Feb 2017 The Daily Press (Hampton Roads newspaper), front page, "Recluse spider silk could hold the key to space-age materials" daily_press_thumb.jpg
Sep 2015 Cover Story in the Daily Press featuring our recently published research on shear-induced self-assembly of molecularly thin silk fibrils. thum_dailypress.jpg
Dec 2013 Advanced Materials features our brown recluse silk paper out of all communications of the Dec 23 issue with a full-page frontispiece. thum_am_frontispiece.jpg
Oct 2013 Chemical & Engineering News feature: C & E News features our paper on the recluse spider silk in their October 28 issue. thum_c_en-loxo.jpg
Oct 2013 Virginia Gazette brown recluse feature: Our research on the silk of the brown recluse spider is featured with a story and photos in their October 19 issue. thum_silk-gazette.jpg
Oct 2013 The Daily Press, Hampton Roads' big newspaper, prominently features our research on the recluse spider silk with a long online article, accompanied with pictures and a video interview. In the print edition, our story had a large title page feature in the Oct 15 issue. thum_dailypress.jpg
Oct 2013 The WIRED magazine highlights our research on the silk of the brown recluse spider with an exciting article. thum_silk-wired.jpg
Mar 2012 "Making spider-sense" — our ground breaking discoveries on the silk protein are featured in the ideation magazine. thum_silkeation.jpg

Online Media

November 2018 Discussion of the recent ACS Macro Letters paper reaches #1 on the engineering subreddit for two days receiving over 32,000 upvotes and 800 comments. (Link to thread)
Feb 2017 Chemistry World (The Royal Society of Chemistry), "Spider silk strength is in the loop"
Feb 2017 Oxford News (University of Oxford), "Deadly spider’s spinning technique could inspire tougher materials" oxford_spider_thumb.jpg
Feb 2017 Inside Science (American Institute of Physics), "Loops Give Extra Toughness to Recluse Spider Silk" inside_sci_thumb.jpg
Feb 2017 Seeker, Venomous brown recluse spiders produce incredibly strong web silk that could be copied for multiple uses, including snagging space junk: "Deadly Spider Sews Industrial-Strength Silk Strands" inside_sci_thumb.jpg
Feb 2017 W&M News, "The brown recluse spider engineers extra-strong silk by spinning loops onto a flat strand"
Oct 2015 Our research on the silk of the brown recluse spider is highlighted by the ideation magazine article: "Unraveling the secret of silk that's more alive than dead". thum_ideation_2013.jpg

Our Press Releases

14 Feb 2017

Press Release: Looped Ribbon Silk By Hannes Schniepp

Our latest paper in Material Horizons found that by adding loops, brown recluse spider can make its silk strand much tougher.

1 Sep 2015

Press Release: Processed Silk By Hannes Schniepp

Our recent paper in Biomacromolesules revealed for first time that there are Flaws of Processed Silk Revealed at the Molecular Scale.

8 Oct 2013

We were the first team to extract silk fibers from the recluse spider and tested its properties.


[37] JOM (2019) — Wang, Schniepp*
"Nanofibrils as Building Blocks of Silk Fibers: Critical Review of the Experimental Evidence"
[36] ACS Macro Letters (2018) — Wang, Schniepp*
"Strength of Recluse Spider's Silk Originates from Nanofibrils"
[32] Materials Horizons (2017) — Koebley, Vollrath, & Schniepp*
"Toughness-enhancing metastructure in the recluse spider's looped ribbon silk"
[27] Biomacromolecules (2015) — Koebley, Greving, Vollrath & Schniepp*
"Silk Reconstitution Disrupts Fibroin Self-Assembly"
[25] Adv. Materials (2013) — Schniepp*, Koebley & Vollrath
"Brown Recluse Spider's Nanometer Scale Ribbons of Stiff Extensible Silk"
[19] Biomacromolecules (2012) — Greving, Cai, Vollrath & Schniepp*
"Shear-Induced Self-Assembly of Native Silk Proteins into Fibrils Studied by Atomic Force Microscopy"


May 2014 Prof. Schniepp is the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award from the U. S. National Science Foundation (award # DMR-1352542). The award will provide a total of $450,000 over 5 years to investigate the ribbon silk of the loxosceles spider. thum_nsf.jpg
Dec 2010 The Schniepp group receives a research grant from the Thomas F. Jeffress and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust. The funds will greatly enhance our silk project. thum_silk.jpg

The Silk Team

Qijue Wang Dinidu Perera Ben Skopic Hannes C. Schniepp

Previous Silk Team Members

Sean R. Koebley Minzhen Cai Chloe Walsh Drew Spears Pei Pang
sean.jpg minzhen_150.jpg chloe150.jpg ASCII
Thorin Jean Richard Foster Daniel Thorpe Panos Chrisochoides
thorinjean_headshot.jpg richard_foster_150.jpg daniel_150.jpg panos_150.jpg

public/research/projects/silk.txt · Last modified: 2020/02/07 13:30 by schniepp