Structural optimization of 3D-printed synthetic spider webs for high strength

Z Qin and BG Compton and JA Lewis and MJ Buehler, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 6, 7038 (2015).

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8038

Spiders spin intricate webs that serve as sophisticated prey-trapping architectures that simultaneously exhibit high strength, elasticity and graceful failure. To determine how web mechanics are controlled by their topological design and material distribution, here we create spider-web mimics composed of elastomeric filaments. Specifically, computational modelling and microscale 3D printing are combined to investigate the mechanical response of elastomeric webs under multiple loading conditions. We find the existence of an asymptotic prey size that leads to a saturated web strength. We identify pathways to design elastomeric material structures with maximum strength, low density and adaptability. We show that the loading type dictates the optimal material distribution, that is, a homogeneous distribution is better for localized loading, while stronger radial threads with weaker spiral threads is better for distributed loading. Our observations reveal that the material distribution within spider webs is dictated by the loading condition, shedding light on their observed architectural variations.

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