Harnessing the Power of Spider Silk

spiderA professor at Arizona State University is studying the silk that spiders spin to build their webs. Scientists have discovered that spiders can spin six different kinds of silk. Each kind of silk has different properties. Some kinds of silk are very stretchy, while other kinds are sticky. The most amazing thing is that spider silk is very strong — as strong as steel, in fact.

So why don’t we farm spiders and use their silk to build useful things? Professor Jeff Yarger has the answer:

The reason is that spiders don’t produce silk in large quantities.

“You can put lots of silkworms in a small area and genetically modify them to go from the larval state to a moth in 20-30 days. Spiders take longer. But let’s get to the crux of it—spiders don’t like each other. They eat each other,” he explains.

The scientists came up with an idea to make spider silk without using actual spiders. They altered silkworms to enable them to make spider silk. But there was another problem — the silk spun by silkworms was not as strong as real spider silk. Their next challenge is to use a powerful scanner called a Magnetic Resonance Image machine to look more closely at the altered silkworms in hopes of perfecting artificial spider silk.

via Researchers aim to harness power of spider silk | ASU News.

Mongoose War: Now With More Baby Mongoose Cuteness

This video from BBC Earth depicts a pretty awesome battle between rival tribes of mongooses. An invading pack of mongooses is attempting to wipe out another family of mongooses, who have to flee while carrying their little baby mongooses.

This is an excerpt from a BBC television show called Banded Brothers, which depicts the lives and behaviors of mongooses in the African nation of Uganda.

The Question You Can Always Ask: “How Do You Know That?”

A nine-year old girl asked a NASA tour guide about the age of moon rocks. Her family taught her that the universe is only 6,000 years old, which scientists believe is nowhere close to the truth. Who’s right here, and why? And was this little girl right to question the scientists?

Scientist PZ Meyers of the University of Minnesota provides an excellent kid-friendly explanation not only of the radiometric dating process that’s used to determine the age of very old things like moon rocks, but also of how and when it’s appropriate to question what we know about the natural world. (In short: it’s important for a scientist to be critical-minded, but it’s important to ask questions and pay attention to answers that provide more information instead of reinforcing ideas that we already have.)

Oscar-Winner Natalie Portman was a Kid Scientist

Here’s a story from the New York Times about Natalie Portman, the actress you may remember as Princess Amidala from Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. Apparently she was quite the kid scientist in high school; she was a semifinalist in the national Intel Science Talent search!

Portman is 29 years old now and is about to have a baby of her own. Last night she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, playing a ballerina in a film called “Black Swan”. This just goes to show that you don’t have to choose between being a princess, a ballerina, or a scientist — you can be all three if you want!

The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula

Have you ever heard of a spider that eats birds?

It is called the Goliath Birdeater Tarantula. The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula is a very interesting looking spider. This tarantula is the biggest spider in the world. It can be up to 11 inches! This particular spider is coffee colored. This spider has hairs on its legs that it can flick which are extremely irritating to our skin.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula lives in a variety of places. This bird-eating spider can be found in South America and Venezuela. This spider can also be found in Brazil and humid tropical forest areas. When keeping this tarantula as a pet it should be maintained at 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

This spider has an interesting way of hunting. The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula bite is really harmless to humans, almost like a wasp sting. This spider takes young birds from their nests, which gives it the name “bird eater”. These spiders only use their bite for self-defense; for hunting they use stealth and strength.

You can clearly see the Goliath Birdeater Tarantula is a very special spider.

Another Kid Scientist’s Google Doodle

We’re always excited to hear about other Kid Scientists out there sharing their interest in science and education.
science-google-doodleKaylie McFerrin from Wichita Falls, TX is one of the entrants in the Google for Doodle contest. The winner’s doodle will appear on Google’s home page. Kaylie wants to become a scientist so she can find a cure for her sister’s kidney cancer. There are lots of great careers for aspiring scientists that involve research, chemistry, and medicine. If you could do or be anything, what would it be?