I was excited this winter when my 5th grade daughter chose the topic for her science fair report: ‘How Strong is a Spider Web?’ After placing third last year for her report, ‘What do Hummingbirds Like to Eat?,’ we had high hopes for another strong performance.

One of my rules has been that I provide help at the beginning, but from then on she’s on her own, so I’m never quite sure how it’s going to turn out. Well, a couple months ago we sat down together and considered all the different possibilities that might affect a spider web’s strength — span, angle, heat, amount of stickiness, etc. Then she went around our neighborhood for a month collecting data and dropping as many paperclips, her chosen unit of weight, on different kinds of webs until they failed.

One of her discoveries was that the strongest spiderweb held over fifty paperclips, more than five times as much weight as she thought it would. She also validated her hypothesis that the sticky black widow webs would be the strongest, all on her way to a first prize at the science fair.

Since biomimicry — using biological lessons to improve the efficiency of human designs — has long been a fascinating topic to me, I was very interested in this article that appeared this morning.

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