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Spider silk: structure, mechanics and synthesis

Study level

PhD

Master of Philosophy

Honours

Vacation research experience scheme

Faculty/Lead unit

Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.

Supervisors

Professor Cameron Brown
Position
Professor of Biomedical Engineering & Director, MERF
Division / Faculty
Science and Engineering Faculty

Overview

Spider silks possess a range of qualities that are rarely found simultaneously in one material, and it is no surprise that an enormous effort has been made to replicate or learn from them.

Toughness, extensibility and strength are only a few of the desirable traits that make spider silk of such interest. Silk is biodegradable and, unlike synthetic high-performance fibres such as Kevlar, it is extremely lightweight.

A further advantage lies in its processing conditions and requirements. Whereas production of Kevlar and other such synthetics comes at a high monetary and environmental cost, spiders spin recyclable fibres on demand, under ambient conditions using water as a solvent, all at the energetic cost of an insect dinner.

Two aspects of spider silk are particularly interesting:

  • the structure-property-function relationships responsible for the phenomenal properties of spider silk
  • the processing that produces them.

Projects are available across these areas and will be defined based on the aptitude and specific interests of the prospective student.

Research activities

You will investigate one, or a combination, of the following:

  • characterisation and exploration of self-healing mechanisms
  • understanding the role of water in spider silk mechanics
  • reproduction of spider silk spinning physics in commercially viable materials
  • exploring the natural spider silk production pathway, from cells to fibres
  • translation of structure-property-function relationships to new materials.

Outcomes

This work will advance the understanding of spider silk mechanics and provide a path to reproducing the production and performance in a new generation of materials.

Specific applications will be in high-performance industrial fibres, new biomaterials, optical devices, and regenerative medicine.

Skills and experience

If you have a physics, materials, mechanical or electrical engineering background we encourage you to apply.

The project description is deliberately broad, offering opportunities to tailor specific projects for students with a range of academic backgrounds, interests and skillsets.

Scholarships

You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round

Keywords

Contact

Contact the supervisor for more information.