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Biotech Technology Science

Making Biodegradable Computer Chips Out of Spider Silk 55

An anonymous reader writes in a story about a neat potential use for spider silk. "Many people have heard that spider silk is a sort of supermaterial: stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar, and yet incredibly malleable and flexible. But the silk has other properties that make it ideal for use in electronic devices. Light can travel through a silk strand as easily as it does through a fiber optic cable. 'When we first tested spider silk, we didn’t know what to expect,' said physicist Nolwenn Huby of the Institut de Physique de Rennes in France. 'We thought, "Why not try this as an optical fiber to propagate light?'" Huby and her team were able to transmit laser light down a short strand of the silk on an integrated circuit chip. The silk worked much like glass fiber optic cables, meaning it could carry information for electronic devices, though it had about four orders of magnitude more loss than the glass. Huby said that with a coating and further development, the silk could one day have better transmission capabilities. She will present her results at this year’s Frontiers in Optics conference, Oct. 14 to 18 in Rochester, New York.
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Making Biodegradable Computer Chips Out of Spider Silk

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  • by Kincaidia ( 927521 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:10AM (#41656249)
    "Light can travel through a silk strand as easily as it does through a fiber optic cable. ..... it had about four orders of magnitude more loss than the glass." It couldn't even be self-consistent in the SUMMARY? *sigh* Someone's going to have a bad case of the Mondays.
    • Correlation does not imply causation.

      Just because light travels easily trough silk does not mean that there are not properties of silk that can influence data loss.

      • not *other properties

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        The phrase "correlation does not imply causation" is usually a fairly good indicator that the person who said it doesn't understand correlation OR causation. In your case it doesn't even start to make sense.

        If light travels through spider silk with four orders of magnitude more loss than through glass then light travels through spider silk 10,000 times more poorly than through glass fibre. That is, it doesn't travel through silk nearly as easily as through glass. Nobody said anything about data loss.

    • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:27AM (#41656319)
      Oh, I don't know. In lots of industries "within four orders of magnitude" is the same thing as "equal". Economists and US senators, for example.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      "Light can travel through a silk strand as easily as it does through a fiber optic cable. ..... it had about four orders of magnitude more loss than the glass."

      It couldn't even be self-consistent in the SUMMARY? *sigh*

      OK 40 dB or so.

      Check out a graph of "fiber optic cable" (as if there is only one kind LOL noobs).

      The difference in dB/KM at blue light and at the IR minimum in generic common glass fiber is darn near 30 dB or so.

      These are journalists, they probably don't even know the difference much less know the spectral characteristics of the spider silk. I would be kinda surprised if its got the exact same shapes in the graphs as glass fiber. Heck its only 40 dB to overcome, thats not much, there's probably some weird

    • My bicycle is about two orders of magnitude slower than a Bugatti Veyron, but with an aerodynamic coating and further development, it could one day be faster!

  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:12AM (#41656255) Homepage Journal

    It's a neat thought-experiment, but like many things that get touted in the media, more hype than reality.

    This won't be easily manufactured on a large scale. It will not be as fast as fiber optics or electricity. It will degrade during use.

    Fix those, then let us know...

    • Well, it could lead to us getting a better understanding of the chemical nature of spider silk, and artificially creating it. It wouldn't be the first interesting natural thing we've found and decided artificial creation for larger scale output, and more consistent product quality, was a good idea.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        there's already demand/need for artificial production of spiders silk.

        this thought experiment/idea is on the level of "hey it's translucent!" - without coming up with any idea how to make it more practical in any use.

        and glass for the optical fibers isn't that bad. being more flexible doesn't help much either since you still need to avoid kinks.

        • there's already demand/need for artificial production of spiders silk.

          It's already being made from GMO goats' milk. The spinnerets are similar to those used for making Spectra UHDPE fibre.

    • It already is manufactured on a greater scale than trying to farm spiders: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16554357 [bbc.co.uk] (warning: potential goat pr0n)

      How it'll really pan out in electronics for fibre optics remains to be seen though ;-)

    • It will degrade during use.

      A more perfect method of destroying evidence you'll never find. Like stabbing somebody with an icicle.

      This tape will self destruct in five seconds

    • This won't be easily manufactured on a large scale. It will not be as fast as fiber optics or electricity. It will degrade during use.

      Lol, you didn't even read the article did you? One of the features is that could "degrade during use" because one of their envisioned applications is using it for communications for medical devices and/or medical imaging within the body (as e.g. it's far thinner than fiber and can be broken down and re-absorbed by the body). And for this application is doesn't need to be as

  • They're gonna find a few bugs in these.

  • I mean, a lot of industries would LOVE having spider silk in large quantities - it's a very durable material, and could be pretty useful in making bulletproof vests or strong-yet-light cables, if I recall correctly.

    So even if it's theoretically correct - I kind of doubt it'll ever get better than glass, mind you - there'll be just another industry standing in line waiting for the artificial spider silk to start flowing...
  • Ideal for a small set of medically related electronic devices, it seems.

    I don't think it's likely to replace glass for anything else.

  • Can you do it in the cloud?

  • by XiaoMing ( 1574363 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @08:30AM (#41656339)

    Four orders of magnitude difference in attenuation... That's literally 10,000x.

    In related news, I will be attending this same conference to deliver a talk regarding my findings that peanut butter can serve as windows, with similar differences in optical attenuation, with uncertainty of plus/minus spider silk.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Peanut butter windows are prone to jam.

  • They may be more 'biodegradable', but they certainly are not vegan.
  • Does one, seriously, need to spin everything in green brouhaha these days? Biodegradable fiber optic, yeah sure, as if it made the tiniest shred of difference. For one, semiconductor industry produces quite a bit of waste water and waste solvents, all laced with pretty nasty, toxic stuff. For another, the semiconductor material itself, even when doped, is pretty much fucking sand. It doesn't fucking have to be biodegradable, because it non-degrading is not a fucking issue at all. We don't fucking need sand

    • RTFA - "Biodegradable fiber optic" does make "the tiniest shred of difference" when you're talking about microscopic medical communications devices within the body. Unless you think it makes no difference to just leave strands of ordinary glass fiber all over your internals?

      • by tibit ( 1762298 )

        Or, so then tiny shards of passivated silicone will be better tolerated, then? And whatever electrode surfaces are exposed for those things to harvest power will obviously not be a problem either? No, this is not a false dichotomy. Sure everything has to be addressed, but let's perhaps not get overexcited by solving the smallest part of the problem by volume and surface area, by far.

  • I'm not at all interested in having my computer biodegrade. I want it to last. Too much waste and throw away in our society. Things should be built to last. I have cast iron cookware that is over a hundred years old and will last for maybe another thousand years.

    • Your assumption is flawed.

      There are lots of things built to last, for instance, most computers, phones, electronic devices will last a long time.

      The problem is that society perceives electronics to become obsolete a year or two after purchase, and so they want to get rid of something that works perfectly well for something the works or looks slightly better.

      So, having electronics that could eventually biodegrade is a good thing when the hipsters decide that the iPhone-nS released 6 months ago is not as good

  • I'm calling it Goblin Chips. The marketing battles among the skyscrapers of New York City will be EPIC!

  • Crawling the world wide web will make much more sense.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.