Category Archives: Spider Silk

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 Spider Silk Team

Greetings! We are the 2016 Spider Silk Team! Our names are Will Dietrich ’16 and Davis Ebbert ’16, and we are very excited about our project. Currently, we are researching everything available about spider silk and hope to discover more on our own.

The newest update regarding spider silk involves a company named The North Face. This company is well known in the sport adventure industry and creates winter jackets from which any ametur or professional can benefit. This new product has been named the “Moon Parka.” North Face, as well as many other companies, have given in to the global craze over spider silk. This is because it is one of nature’s stretchiest and strongest materials known to mankind. Spiber Technologies has been working with North Face extensively and has helped them create this new product. By isolating the gene responsible for the production of fibroin and introducing it to a bioengineered bacteria, the new product is an artifical silk that can be collected and spun. Spiber Tech mentioned in a statement that they developed this product with the thought in mind that most sports apparel out in the world creates harmful greenhouse gases and creating a product that is renewable is very important to society.

The difference between spider silk and biotech artificial silk is enormous. The strength of natural silk from the nephila clavipes spider cannot be replicated in any lab and is immensely stronger than artificial biotech. Spider silk from nephila clavies is [200%] stronger than synthetic silk and hold the record as the strongest natural fiber known to man. In short, natural silk is more impressive than biotech. What that really means is that the silk that our team extracts in the field will be better than any artificial spider silk project out there to date. Biotech silk involves the introduction of bioengineered material to the natural silk to try and create the toughest fiber known to man. That being said, the fiber our team extracts still holds the record for the strongest natural silk known worldwide. This has been tested by Tufts University and all silk has been found both credible and valuable.

We work with nephila clavipes spider, which holds the record as the strongest natural fiber known to man. We have developed a patented method for extracting spider silk and then test is elasticity. Last year’s Spider Silk Team set a new strength record when testing spider silk strength and elasticity. This year, we hope to beat that record and rebuild our spider farm down in Costa Rica.

Our plan is to take our team of trained field biologists down to the Costa Rican Rainforest and extract more natural fiber than we could even imagine. Last year, the Spider Silk Team extracted nearly 35,000 feet of fiber, and this year we are determined to take silking to the next level. We will practice silking spiders in the classroom prior to arriving in Costa Rica; that way we will be more than ready to take this year’s production to new heights. We will be stress testing all silk produced, and importing all data into a Glacier Computer (military grade laptop). This information will give us an idea as to the tensile strength of the silk and how the silk has matched up to previous spider silk extractions.

We will be keeping you updated with our progress in the coming months and we are excited to share what learn and discover.

Procedure for Spider Silking


  1. Four Silk Extractors- made out of aluminium
  2. Tool Kit
  3. Level ruler
  4. Windshield wiper battery
  5. Spider collection jars
  6. Rite in the rain notebooks
  7. Flagging tape
  8. Duct tape
  9. Slingshot
  10. Black light
  11. Light meter
  12. Bike counters
  13. Rubber bands

Procedure for Spider Silking

The spider silk extractor is one of Forman School’s own patented design, consisting of three parts to it; this comprises of the box itself, the wheel and the handle for spinning the wheel. Everything is stored away in the confinements of the box whilst unused, but when needed for the extraction process, the pieces of this contraption is assembled together.

Now that the new spider silking mechanisms have arrived, fully remade into aluminum, we can begin a proper and more sophisticated method of extracting the silk from the Nephila Clavipes. There will be no more warping in the wood and everything will become more solid and accurate, which will aid in getting precise data.

Because extracting web from a golden orb weaver is a very delicate process, people involved are designated jobs. The first person, denoted as A, handles the spiders and does the collecting of the spider silk. The second person, denoted as B, spins the wheel on the extractor to ensure the collection. The third person, denoted as C, records all the data on a notebook, as well as a glacier computer.

  1. Person A transports the spider from its web to the location of extraction, using cupped hands so as to not harm the spider
  2. Person C uses the light meter to measure the amount of lumens hitting the silk. The spider’s number, the time of day, and other variables that can factor the silking are also recorded.
  3. The spider is brought to the wheel of the silk extractors, and is prepared to release it’s webbing by allowing the spider to create the sticky disc on Person A’s hand. The sticky disc allows the spider to attach itself to the hand of Person A while it releases its fiber for the extractor to collect the silk.
  4. Person B starts spinning the wheel using the handle whilst Person A guides the spider with his hands as the silk is being produced, and does this for about 2 to 3 minutes. This timeline allows the spider to release enough fiber, but will not over exhaust the spider.
  5. Once done, the spider is released by Person A safely on its web and back to its colony.
  6. The spider silk is then cut off with scissors. The spider silk will then be tested for its tensile strength. It will be tested with a homemade field tensile lab
  7. The data is then recorded. This includes temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall and dew point.

Improved Silk Extractors

After receiving all our Patagonia gear, one of our team members father, Mr. Farrell, who is a professional metallurgist, stopped by to take a look at our silk extractors in preparation for converting four of our silk extractors into metal. Thanks to him, our silk extractors will improve dramatically, as there will be no more warping in the wood and everything will become more solid and accurate.  And the best part is that it will all be professionally modified to enhance their performance when extracting the silk from the Nephila clavipes.

Terrence Farrell, Farrell Precision Metal Craft Corp.

Thank You Patagonia!

Thanks to you we have great gear!

From early mornings with the bird team to late nights with the Reptiles & Amphibians team, we will be trapping, recording, and doing research in the driest and warmest possible way.

Silk Extractors

For the past couple weeks, we’ve been inspecting our inventory of research equipment. The team has decided on the three silk extractors that we will to bring to Costa Rica — and we are planning on building a fourth. During that time, we have also done the tensile strength lab with the spider silk, and practiced using the glacier computer. We can’t wait to get down to the rainforest!

Spider Silk Team of 2014-2015

Spiders, universally known as the Golden Orb Weavers, are 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 or artificial ligaments. The 2014-2015 Spider Silk team is Tristan Jeyaretnam, Gordon Wilson and Addie Keilty. Our goal 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.

Spider Silk 2014 Methods and Materials


A. Method of assembling the extractor.

The Silk Extractor, one of the 2 U.S. Patented devices under the Forman School’s Rainforest Project, is key to the process of the silk extraction. This highly effective device scratch-built by Forman Students, has only three main parts consisting of the box, crank and the “wheel”  This portable and compact piece of equipment is very easy to assemble. To start the assembly of the Silk Extract the handle (window crank) is attached to the rear of the box by screwing it in place. Once secure, the “wheel” consisting of eight cut arrow shaft’s placed in a circle (25.4cm).   Once both crank and “wheel” is secure, the Silk Extractor is now ready for the extraction process.

B.  Method for extraction

The method for the extraction of the Nephila Clavipes spider is also under the same protection of the US Patent of the Silk Extractor.  Before the extraction process begins, the three members of the Spider Silk team are given each individual jobs which are vital to the operation. Such jobs include, the handler which has the role of transporting the spider to and  from its web, and uses the “Hand-over-Hand” method to give the spider the sensation of falling; The Crank operator, which is responsible for counting the number of rotations used to silk each individual spider, and the operation of the Silk Extractor; the final job is the Computer Operator, who is responsible for keeping track of all the data throughout the expedition.
To start the extraction, the Spider Handler must carefully remove the Golden Orb Weaver spider from its web. Once the spider is situated on the arrow shafts, the spider  should lay its sticky disc. In order to extract the silk from the spider, the Crank Operator and the Spider Handler must coordinate strongly together because each spider behaves differently. The spider goes into the handlers hand. Then, the handler uses the “hand-over-hand” method to silk the spider. (This method is when the handler places their hands in a tilted down position in order to simulate the sensation of falling for the spider. The silk that is being extracted is the dragline silk. The silk comes out of the Major Ampullate gland. If executed properly the spider should produce silk.) At the same time, the Crank Operator begins the process of spinning with one hand, while the Computer Operator records the data being received.

Once the spider has finished silking, the Spider Handler returns the spider back to its web. After each spider, the following data is recorded; Number of rotations, length of silk, Color of silk, number of strands, Time of extraction, and Weather variables.

C. Methods for feeding

To ensure that variables are close to accurate as possible, the Spider Silk team has developed a method for feeding the spiders. This is vital the silk extracting process and shows that farming these spiders is easy so that a local farmer can perform the extraction technique.  In order to attract these insect, a black light is placed inside of a mesh laundry hamper. Once the light is in place, a dog collar is then positioned over the opening. When fully assembled, the Feeding Ring is hung low to the ground. Within 30 minutes the Feeding Ring is remove from the tree. With the insects caught, feed spiders with insects.  We mostly feed them moths. take insects and throw them into webs.     

D. Method for Logger Pro

In order to use the Logger Pro application. The application is opened. To start the data graph, the recorder types the strength and the elasticity of the silk. X is going to be strength and elasticity is going to by Y. based upon our field results, the recorder types in the data, into Logger Pro and makes a graph.

Duration of session
# spider
Amount of silk
Barametric Pressure
Wind Speed
Wind Direction
Due Point  

E. Method for Employing Local Families.
Employing 2 local families to test what quantity of silk they can get.

F: Method for Light Meter

Going to be using a light meter to look at the amount of lumens that are hitting hte web and going to be measuring by Klux. this will be used to keep track of lumens hitting each web, and coordinating color of silk.

Thank You Glacier Computer

Spider silk has received a new computer from Glacier Computer. Glacier lent us their T510K for when we trek down to the rainforest. This bad boy is loaded with Microsoft Windows Xp, can withstand temperatures from -4 to 113 fahrenheit and its shock absorption up to 40 G. We will be using the computer to input our data and will really help us when we are down in Costa Rica. A Big thank you to Glacier Computer! Much Appreciated!

Spider Silk 2013-2014

spider silk — the strongest natural fiber in the world. It is well-suited for many uses like medical sutures and gloves, bullet proof vests, and more. For this, the school has been granted two US patents!

Scientists used to think that the Golden Orb Weaver spider was cannibalistic and not farmable. So companies are spending millions of dollars bio-engineering their spider silk. But our research has found little cannibalistic tendencies and in fact, they prefer to live in tight colonies. We have been able to collect their silk at a fraction of the cost.

This is the future of technology. And the Forman School’s Rainforest Project, the only High School in the country with this intense of a program, is on the brink of making history.


1. To get as much spider silk as possible.
2. To figure out when and why the silk is most strong.
3. Make a cottage industry for local ranchers abutting rainforest land.