Alas, an article I was going to write was killed, because another publication just ran it as a cover story. But! It’s still pretty darn cool!
Silk is a pretty fascinating material. Spun to make cocoons, people have been repurposing silk for at least five thousand years. It is doesn’t weigh much, it is tremendously strong, and it shimmers beautifully in the light.
A group at Tufts University it using silk to make optical sensors. Listen to the AAAS podcast about using silk proteins for food safety. They take the proteins from silk and make a film out of them, sort of like a thin film of plastic. When molecules of the material to be sensed appear — for example, byproducts of salad greens spoiling — then the film changes color. Here’s a link to more silk sensors in the news.
Advantages of silk? It’s biocompatible, biodegradable, and you can make it into things using liquid solutions. And you can make a lot of things out of it! Take a look at this hologram made from silk proteins.
Image credit: Fiorenzo Omenetto, Associate Professor, Tufts