A spider's web

21st September 2001 at 01:00
A spider's web has amazing properties. Its silk is one micron thick, or about 1100 the thickness of human hair: as light as gossamer, we say. Spinning a liquid that solidifies on contact with the air, spiders weave orb, tangle, sheet and funnel webs. Every radius and angle creates mathematical delights. Not only do the spirals in such webs exemplify the Fibonacci sequence and equiangular spirals, but the orb-weaving spider's thread can be used to calculate Young's modulus (E equals sigma over epsilon) a formula for relating elasticity to stress divided by strain. The spider's capture spiral is three times as tensile as steel, to absorb the energy of its flying insect prey, while its light weight enables it to withstand damage from wind. When the webs bend round into funnels and orbs, they stretch, too, into non-Euclidean geometry and topology. For ideas on using spider's webs in class, try www.ruf.rice.eduwinklerspidermath.htmlFor an explanation of Young's modulus, www.tiem.utk.edumbealsspider.html

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