Supercontraction of spider silks as a humidity-driven phase transition

Supercontraction of spider silks as a humidity-driven phase transition

Vincenzo FAZIO, Giuseppe FLORIO, Nicola Maria PUGNO, Giuseppe PUGLISI

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Abstract. Spider silks have been intensively studied among natural materials for their extreme mechanical properties such as very high strength, ultimate strain, and toughness. Another striking phenomenon characterizing spider silk, known as supercontraction, is a substantial contraction, up to a half of the initial length, occurring when an unconstrained silk thread is exposed to a wet environment. We propose a multiscale model that deduces the hygro-dependent macroscopic behaviour of the spider silks starting from the nano and micro-structure properties of the material. In particular, we describe the influence of humidity at the macromolecular scale by considering the moisture effects disrupting hydrogen-bonds and enabling the decrease of the natural (zero force) end-to-end chains length due to entropic effects. The main novelty of our theoretical approach is a description in the field of solid-solid phase transitions, with the system undergoing a transition driven by humidity from an unfolded, hard dry to a folded, soft wet configuration. Based on a statistical mechanical approach, we are able to describe the temperature dependence of the supercontraction effects and its cooperative properties quantitatively predicting the observed experimental behaviour.

Spider Silk, Supercontraction, Phase Transition, Statistical Mechanics

Published online 3/17/2022, 6 pages
Copyright © 2023 by the author(s)
Published under license by Materials Research Forum LLC., Millersville PA, USA

Citation: Vincenzo FAZIO, Giuseppe FLORIO, Nicola Maria PUGNO, Giuseppe PUGLISI, Supercontraction of spider silks as a humidity-driven phase transition, Materials Research Proceedings, Vol. 26, pp 59-64, 2023


The article was published as article 10 of the book Theoretical and Applied Mechanics

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