Silk: Strongest Fabric

ambience: Chinese music, chinese flute

It’s the strongest natural fabric in the world and the way it’s manufactured was a closely guarded secret for over a thousand years. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

“Silk was discovered about 5000 years ago in China. The Chinese did observe that there is a wild form of silkworms that spin cocoons that have silk-like properties. From this they derived a domesticated version which we now call silkworms, and they tried to keep this a big secret for many centuries. But ultimately the cocoons were stolen and transported to Japan and to Europe where the silk industry became more worldwide.”

Dr. Michael Wells is a biochemist at the University of Arizona. He tells us that over the years, silk has been made into thread, clothes, and rope. It’s even been used as the cross hairs in gun sights. But a once thriving silk industry has been downsized except in areas of the world where labor is relatively inexpensive.

“The problem with silk is that it is a very labor intensive material to produce.”

So silk manufacture has been mostly replaced by synthetic fibers, which are stronger and cheaper to produce. But scientists haven’t yet given up on finding new uses for silk.

“There’s an institute in Japan that has several scientists trying to find alternative uses of silk. The one thing that they have made that looks like it might potentially be interesting is a sprayable form of silk that you can spray onto plastic. If you put it onto a ball-point pen, it gives the ball-point pen a very nice feel.”

We’ll here more on silk in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Silk: Strongest Fabric

Silk is as rich in its history as in its aesthetic.
Air Date:08/11/2003
Scientist:
Transcript:


ambience: Chinese music, chinese flute

It's the strongest natural fabric in the world and the way it's manufactured was a closely guarded secret for over a thousand years. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"Silk was discovered about 5000 years ago in China. The Chinese did observe that there is a wild form of silkworms that spin cocoons that have silk-like properties. From this they derived a domesticated version which we now call silkworms, and they tried to keep this a big secret for many centuries. But ultimately the cocoons were stolen and transported to Japan and to Europe where the silk industry became more worldwide."

Dr. Michael Wells is a biochemist at the University of Arizona. He tells us that over the years, silk has been made into thread, clothes, and rope. It's even been used as the cross hairs in gun sights. But a once thriving silk industry has been downsized except in areas of the world where labor is relatively inexpensive.

"The problem with silk is that it is a very labor intensive material to produce."

So silk manufacture has been mostly replaced by synthetic fibers, which are stronger and cheaper to produce. But scientists haven't yet given up on finding new uses for silk.

"There's an institute in Japan that has several scientists trying to find alternative uses of silk. The one thing that they have made that looks like it might potentially be interesting is a sprayable form of silk that you can spray onto plastic. If you put it onto a ball-point pen, it gives the ball-point pen a very nice feel."

We'll here more on silk in future programs.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.