Scientists have successfully encased spider silk in carbon nanotubing, a technological breakthrough that shows promise to lead the way to more practical methods to conduct electricity in a more ecologically efficient way.

A carbon nanotude is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that has been rolled into an infinitesimally small tube with a diameter about 10,000 times less than that of a single strand of human hair. Carbon nanotubes are of great interest to scientists because of their amazing strength and ability to conduct electricity and heat.

Eden Steven, a physicist at Florida State University's MagLab facility, wanted to see what would happen when thin strands of spider web were coated with nanotubes. Steven went around the facility with a broom and collected lingering spider webs and brought them back to the lab for experiments. He found that the best way to get the tubing to stay attached to the spider silk was with a simple drop of water.

"Understanding the compatibility between spider silk and conducting materials is essential to advance the use of spider silk in electronic applications," Steven wrote in the research paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

"Spider silk is tough, but becomes soft when exposed to water. ... The nanotubes adhere uniformly and bond to the silk fiber surface to produce tough, custom-shaped, flexible and electrically conducting fibers after drying and contraction."

Learning that the tubing could be adhered with just water was a revelation for Steven, who has an interest in eco-friendly design

"If we understand basic science and how nature works, all we need to do is find a way to harness it," Steven said. "If we can find a smart way to harness it, then we can use it to create a new, cleaner technology."

Carbon nanotube coated spider silk has a variety of functions, Steven said, adding that it can be used as a humidity sensor, a strain sensor, an actuator and as an electrical wire.