Determining the Durability and Tensile Strength of Spider Silk

The University of Nottingham is an international education facility with campuses situated in the UK, China, and Malaysia. The School of Life Sciences, within the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, has extensive knowledge in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, microbiology, genetics, physiology, pharmacology, zoology, and anatomy.

This depth of expertise has put the university at the forefront of biological and medical science research.

Mexican red knee tarantula with silk sample and holder

Mexican red knee tarantula with silk sample and holder

One of the projects at the university is engaged in molecular genetic studies of spider silk, an insight that has relevance in many areas from pure education to future engineering applications. The ‘SpiderLab’ team works in close cooperation with colleagues across the university, including the Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre.

The team had the requirement to measure the physical properties of particular types of this natural protein. Although the raw materials are manufactured by some of the largest members of the infraorder, for example, Mexican red knee tarantula (Brachypelma smithi), the fiber test specimens are usually only a few tens of microns in width. Therefore, the solution needed delicate yet secure gripping as well as the highest levels of accuracy to obtain valid research data.

The Solution

Mecmesin supplied a computer-controlled test stand, equipped with fixtures and an appropriately rated loadcell, chosen to optimize resolution at the maximum expected tensile forces.

The test procedure is controlled by Emperor™ software and the programming environment allows performing specific calculations to comprehensively characterize the silk sample performance. Rate of extension, average load over certain extension ranges, work performed, and elongation and load at break are measured.

Lightweight grips, spring-loaded and rubber-faced

Lightweight grips, spring-loaded and rubber-faced

This extensive analysis helps in understanding the variability amongst silks (and between strands of the same silk type). The library files ensure that the same extension test is able to be repeated multiple times for the same fiber, or ‘bundles’ of fibers, which most closely replicate the natural ecological use of the material.

The test sample is secured by bonding the fiber or fibers to a card ‘frame,’ which is cut in two before the test. Lightweight grips, which are spring-loaded clamping for the upper and rubber-faced jaws in the lower, complete the precise specification.

The System

  • MultiTest 2.5-i computer-controlled test stand
  • Lightweight double action vice grip with rubber-faced jaws
  • Lightweight mini vice grip
  • 2 N intelligent loadcell


The Mecmesin machine is a great piece of kit – it has allowed us to move forward with our research in a very productive way, and we are grateful for the excellent technical support that has come with it.

Dr. Sara Goodacre, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, The University of Nottingham

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Mecmesin Limited.

For more information on this source, please visit Mecmesin Ltd.


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