Lecture 1 – The spider that spun a suspension bridge

From the 2002 autumn programme:

What connects the tiny spider's web hanging in the dark corner of your ceiling to giant suspension bridges that link towns and countries?

Everything about a spider's web - from the material it is spun from, to the glue that binds it together- is an engineering masterpiece. Built in seconds, it is both the spider's home, and way the spider gathers its food.

Each strand in the web is a highly engineered polymer fibre, 10-times stronger than steel. And when the web gets battered, the spider eats and recycles it - making a new home within minutes.

Just like spiders, we use a wide range of polymer fibres to build the world around us - from the clothes on our backs, to fast food containers and the cables that hold up our buildings and bridges, fibres are everywhere you look.

So for centuries, scientists have been trying to unlock the chemical secrets of the spider's web, hoping to make stronger and more effective fibres fo. use in cables, clothes and super-structures.

This lecture explores how chemistry is trying to mimic the natural world and construct a more ambitious and efficient man-made one. 

Supported by




Tony Ryan



All lectures in the series