Oxford Silk Group ABRG, Department of Zoology, Oxford University Argiope
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Electrostatic properties of spider webs
Spider webs moving towards positive and negative electrodes
Spider catching prey using web vibrations
Spider catching prey using web vibrations
Cocoons into materials
DYNA3D simulation of forced transverse
DYNA3D structural analysis of a Garden Spider's orb web


The Oxford Silk Group led by Prof. Fritz Vollrath studies the biology of silks with the goal to unravel the evolution, ecology, physics and chemistry of these fascinating materials. We often refer to spider silks and in that context we also study spider web engineering and behaviour. Last but not least, we investigate the metabolic costs of natural silk production and the ecological costs (and benefits) of the commercial silk industry.

Spiders, lepidoptera and a host of other arthropods make silk. These silks have evolved independently in the different taxa, but tend to share many features. For a start, they are all bio-polymers of one type or another, with generally excellent mechanical properties. Natural silks are environmentally sustainable with the animal making it from aqueous protein melts at ambient temperatures and low pressures. Clearly, this is something to consider copying when designing and making 'fibres for the future'.

Many silks are bio-compatible, making them excellent materials for use in medicine. Many silks are very tough suggesting use in light-weight applications where energy has to be taken up by the material. All silks are disposable, consisting entirely of natural amino acid building blocks that easily integrate into the natural cycle of decay and rebuilding.

Perhaps most importantly; there is a wealth of information hidden in silk on protein folding and on Nature's way of making exceptional polymer structures. This is immensely valuable information that can be extracted by careful research using state-of-the-art analytical tools. For example, recent studies have shown that silk is spun from an aquamelt, which allows its production to be exceptionally energy efficient.

Prof. Fritz Vollrath additionally leads the Oxford Tracking Group. The Oxford Tracking Group studies African Elephants in the Samburu National Reserve (Kenya). By performing GPS-based research to better understand elephant ecology, Fritz hopes to improve the means by which we can protect elephants in a wide and complex national ecosystem. Notably, because spiders and elephant both have the ability to gather environmental information via substrate vibrations, the Oxford Silk Group and Oxford Tracking Group share an interest in Biotremology research.


Recent News

December 2020

Two new studies have found that spiders can not only catch prey efficiently even when webs are severely distorted, but also build a normal web even when the structures to which it is anchored are continually moving

November 2020

This paper reviewed in Scientific American examines an interesting and potentially very important paradigm of morphological computing to study and test new ideas about the next generation of robots.

November 2019

Prof. Fritz Vollrath and colleagues from the Fudan University in China are widely covered in the news for their discovery of a means to produce fake Rhino horns using horse hair. Hopes are that this product may undermine the illegal market for rhino horn, and demistify the properties of rhino horn. View Here

October 2019

Scientists from the universities of Oxford, Shanghai and Beijing discovered how it can be that natural silks get stronger as they get colder. View Here

September 2019

Our latest Spin-out Spintex Engineering will use Aquamelt TM spinning technology to manufacture spider-type filaments


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Copyright 2007 OSG last updated 23 June, 2014