Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
This incredible piece of fabric pictured above looks like it could be any 11-foot long, beautifully woven piece of golden silk. But what if I told you that it's not made from spider's silk? Randy Kennedy profiled Simon Peers, a British art and textile historian living in Madagascar, and Nicholas Godley, a fashion designer also based in Madagascar. The somewhat unlikely pair met when Mr. Peers decided to investigate whether the native tales and colonial accounts of the female golden orb spider were true: that they could create a golden hued silk, and that its tensile strength was five to six times that of steel. Mr. Godley got involved when, one day, while visitng Mr. Peers's office, he noticed a weird metal spool, a reproduction of the kind that had been used to harvest the spider's silk a hundred years earlier. The two came up with a plan to produce the silk--as a designer and businessman, it was in Mr. Godley's best interest to find a long-lost local art, and as a scholar Mr. Peers was trying to revive Madagascar's weaving arts. Half a million dollars later, the team--with the help of local artisans--has made what the Natural History Museum claims is the first recorded piece of textile made entirely of spider silk. It is on display in the Grand Gallery until April.
But lest you think that spider's silk is just some quaint folksy craft, allow me to introduce you to the 21st century version: spider's goat milk, or Biosteel. Basically, this company called Nexia--working with the U.S. Army--has figured out a way to insert a spider nucleus into the egg of a goat. When the parent goats breed, the kids will look just like goats--except their milk will have the tensile strength of a spider's web. Nexia claims that this material will be biodegradable, stronger than steel, and lighter than a lot of petroleum-based polymers. The material could be used to create artificial human tissue, aircraft parts, tiny sutures for eye wounds, or bullet proof clothing. You guys, I really wish I was making this up, but no. The future is now.