Spider machines clean-up city pollution

In industrialised countries, the need to mitigate the impact of harmful air pollutants is an increasing concern.

This issue has lead to an awareness of the need to develop sustainable solutions to counteract air pollution, and consequently, the expansion of the air filtration market. In light of this demand, recent innovations in biodesign are pioneering radical alternatives in combatting our ever polluted, urban environments.

Ever-present in corners of old buildings or entwined around branches in nature, spider webs are usually brushed away without much thought. When considering the material properties of webs, however, researchers have discovered that spiders produce matter which possesses useful biological properties.  

According to research undertaken by the University of Oxford, spider webs can catch not only insects and pests but also minuscule electrically charged particles that float around our environment. The electrostatic properties of webs allow them the ability to catch microparticles, including pesky pesticides and aerosol in the atmosphere. Consequently, this research suggests that spider webs can be used as devices for studying pollution levels.

In result of this finding, the Oxford researchers suggest that spider webs can be utilized as effective air filters to catch pollutants, constructing an atmosphere which promotes good health. Consequently, this poses the question: are experimental technologies that utilize natural concepts the future for developing a cleaner and healthier urban environment?

Unlike human-made air filters, spider webs are biodegradable and provide an efficient and naturally sustainable solution to tackling the progressively worsening air pollution. Additionally, the group’s research determined that spiders behave differently when various pollutants are caught in their webs, and consequently, the design of their webs varies in appearance.

Stabilimentum, named after the complex structure of a spider web, is an experimental biodesign project devised by Mónica Butler, Rebecca Van Sciver, and Jiwon Woo exhibited at the Biodesign Challenge in 2016. A design aiming to critique how natural materials can be used as effective air filtration mechanisms, Stabilimentum (designed as a small mask) uses the biological properties of spider webs to filter the atmosphere of harmful particles.

Each Stabilimentum devices uses live spiders and their webs to filter out pollutants, using a natural phenomenon for the maintenance of a healthy environment. Once used, however, like any device, Stabilimentum needs to be charged. The charging process differs to that of an electronic device: the construction allows insects into the web for the spiders to feed upon which consequently enables the creatures to generate a new web.

By using a natural mechanism promoting an increasingly cleaner atmosphere by using a natural mechanism to promote a clear atmosphere,  research into the biological properties of spider webs could provide a sustainable solution to the increasing air pollution issue.

Images courtesy of the Mónica Butler and Jiwon Woo, University of Pennsylvania, and Biodesign Challenge



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