Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Foundation of A Sustainable Industry With Spider Silk

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The mission of the 2015 spider silk team was to establish a fair trade between local farmers in Costa Rica & a new sustainable industry. The project revolves around not only a spider with one of the strongest extractable biofibers, but one that lives in colonies. This spider is called the Nephila Clavipes, more commonly known as the Golden Orb Weaver. The project has disproved the theory that Golden Orb Weavers are not able to live in harmony, debunking many scientist’s assumptions. It has also been discovered that these spiders are able to be extracted in mass quantities. By the end, the spider silk team of 2015 got in conversation with a few corporations like 3M, Earth University and the Sustainability Lab in the hopes to work alongside them for further research.


The Golden Orb Weaver, universally known by its Latin name Nephila Clavipes, is well known for their ability to spin spider silk that is very flexible, tough and lightweight. They produce one of the strongest natural fibers in the world and their silk has huge potential to be used industrially and commercially. The silk can be used for many purposes, such as bullet proof clothing, wires, fishing lines, bungee cords, nets, surgical threads and artificial ligaments. The goal of the 2015 spider silk team is to extract and harvest the spider’s silk, using a patented wheel extractor, to collect measurements and data for future use by the public.

The Nephila Clavipes species is the only one of the Nephila genus located in the Western hemisphere. They tend to prefer areas with high humidity, and can often be found in forests. They are mostly orange or yellow, and have long abdomens with feathery legs extending out from them. The female spiders can be significantly bigger than the male spiders, being at least 5 to 6 times larger than males in size. When in their natural habitat, the Golden Orb Weavers like to spin large amounts of their silk to create huge and finely meshed orb webs. These webs are typically constructed as a form of defense or protection against predators. They can span 1 or 2 meters, and are commonly situated a few meters above ground. It is also a way for the spiders to catch their prey of small flying insects, which they end up incapacitating and taking back to their hub on the web.

The 2015 spider team went to Costa Rica with the goal of gathering as much data and numbers within the short two week time span to send into various corporations for testing and analyzing.

Materials and Methods:

Before the extraction can begin, the odometer needs to be set at 1700 rotations. This allows the amount of silk extracted to be recorded.

To then begin the extraction, one first needs to safely take the spider off of her web & bring her over to the extraction wheel. One then holds the spider until she lays a sticky disc on the arm of the person extracting. This should take well under a minute. After the spider lays her sticky disc, the sticky disc is be pulled off & placed on the wheel of the extractor. The second person begins to turn the wheel with the handle, at a rate between six & seven miles per hour. This rate is the most efficient because it allows the spider to have the sensation like it were falling, but also not too fast that the spider will cut its drag line. As the first person handles the spider, the second person continues to spin the wheel around two hundred and fifty to three hundred rotations.

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This amount allows the spider to give a sufficient amount of silk, but not too much that it is going to harm the spider or cause a decline in the quality of the silk.

Once the spider silk is extracted, it needs to tested for its tensile strength. The equipment comprises of a glacier computer hooked a wireless sensor system, which measures the pull of the silk in Newtons. The software that collects the data and graphs the peak is called the Logger Pro. It calculates where the silk breaks off when it is pulled by the attenuator.

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The Forman Rainforest Project holds two patents relating to spider silk. The first one is the patent on our extraction. This is for our procedure and methods of reinforcing a fiber with spider silk. It involves manual extraction, mechanical extraction and into a direct weave.

Wheel to wheel

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Direct Weave

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By having this patent, we protect this species of spider from being exploited. The second patent is on farming the spiders silk. This patent includes the methods for setting up the perfect living environment for the spiders to build their webs.

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The sketch shows a building with a drop light in the center to draw in the insects. Frames on the outside for spiders to build their webs and an eave that protects the webs during heavy rains. Basically we have eliminated crucial limiting factors. That may affect their longevity and coax them to stay.

Doctor Swanson is a well renowned scientist whose area of expertise is the strength of spider silk. According to his data, the average strength of a nephila’s silk is 13.8 gigapaxels. The Forman School had tested their spider silk at Tuft’s University by a professor, and he found that the silk tested at a low of 11.8 gpas & an extremely impressive high of 22.7 gpas. The spider silk’s results tested in the higher percentile compared to Swanson’s data.

The elasticity of Swanson’s data was 17.2%, which  the silk stretched 17.2% beyond its original length. The Spider Silk team’s results stretched 16% all the way up to 22% of its original length. Our bundles of spider silk stretched up to 40%.

Raw Data – Important raw data should be included in a supplementary Data section. This allows readers and reviewers to judge how you used your data.


This graph shows the tensile strength of the spider silk graphed on the y-axis and the temperature is graphed on the x-axis.
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This graph shows the temperature (green line) and the strength (blue line), but on two different lines. It can seen that as the temperature goes down, the strength goes up.
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(r = no. of revolutions)

Amount of silk in feet = r x 10/12

This equation takes the number of revolutions that the extractor’s wheel is spun and is converted to a number which represents the amount of silk collected in feet.

The bike counter also needs to be set to the number 1700 to take into account the smaller wheel as opposed to that of one from an actual bicycle.

Statistical Analysis:

According to the data collected, the ideal temperature for silking the spiders is 72.8 to 83.6 ºF, while the ideal barometric pressure is 27.99 to 28.14 hectopascals (hPa).


After this year’s research, the 2015 spider silk team has made the efforts to partner up with someone for discovering a possibility with making the Nephila’s silk marketable. Some of the questions that the team attempted to answer this year were: whether there was a correlation to barometric pressure or temperature; whether there were negative or positive environmental impacts of extracting spider silk; how spider silk could be made into a sustainable resource, as well as whether it could be turned into a cottage industry; what is the minimal amount of spider silk that equals profit?.


Doctor Swanson

Cheryl Hayashi TED talk video



Wendy Welshans



Addison Keilty

Tristan Jeyaretnam

Gordon Wilson


2016 Bird Team

Think of the lush rainforest. How high can you gaze? Can you see past the dense foliage? Can you see even a glimpse of blue? We know they are there, but we can’t always see them flitting about above the canopy. What are we talking about? Birds. When you think of birds in the Costa Rican rainforest, what is the first species that come to mind? Parrots? Toucans? Do you think of the Chestnut-sided Warbler or the Louisiana Warbler? These are some of the species captured and banded in Costa Rica to the previous bird team’s surprise. 

Anna Lees ’16 and Kammer Tyson ’16 are proud members of the 2016 Bird Team. We will be catching, cataloging, and tracking flight patterns of Neotropical and migratory birds. To do this, we will set up a study plot and multiple mist nets. Mist nets are commonly used by biologists and ornithologists to catch flying creatures. Unlike the years before, we will be attempting to obtain and record more data on hummingbird species. When trapping birds, we will do our best to ensure safe handling techniques are used and the birds are kept calm and returned to the location where they were caught. All specimens obtained will be cataloged and released. In addition, migratory birds will be banded to allow us to see migration patterns in future years. We hope, with our continuing partnership with Cornell University, we can positively impact avian research in Costa Rica and beyond.