Nature creates incredible materials, and some of these materials have mechanical properties that are comparable to humans’ best synthetic designs. For example, silk fibers that are generated at ambient conditions (by either a silkworm or a spider) have tensile strengths and toughnesses that rival steel and Kevlar, respectively; it seems crazy that a comparison can be made between silk and the material that is in bulletproof vests. As such, we can learn from silk when creating our own new materials.
Within the silk-based materials generated by animals, individual silk proteins hierarchically assemble into robust quasi-2D fibers. We are interested in learning how to control the assembly of silk protein, with a particular emphasis in using silk to generate non-fibrous materials.
Here is an example of the assembly of silk protein into a gel using a DC electric field: