Spider silk success for Perse student in prestigious materials science competition
5 Dec 2019
Oliver Phillips (Upper Sixth) has won the illustrious Armourers & Brasiers Tata MateriaIs Prize with his in-depth research into spider silk.
He was one of just four entrants chosen to take part in the final in London, having worked on a number of projects for the competition, including an investigation into the material properties of chocolate, with the support of Perse Head of Physics David Tricker.
Oliver gave a presentation of his work on the properties of the material spun by spiders for their webs in front of a panel of judges from the field of materials science and won the first prize of £500 for himself and the same sum for The Perse.
Speaking about the competition, he said: “I thought I had a fighting chance, but I’m really pleased to have won because I put such a lot of work into it and the day itself was a really nice occasion.
“Spider silk is quite a famous material and I was really interested in looking more closely at it. It was really good to bounce ideas off Dr Tricker for the presentation. He runs the competition in the school and gave up a lot of his time to provide support.”
In his presentation, Oliver explained how the production of spider silk is a hugely time-intensive process, highlighting the manufacture of a cape exhibited at London’s V&A Museum in 2012 that took eight years to make, using silk harvested from 1.2million golden orb weaver spiders.
However, he outlined that the weight-to-strength ratio of spider silk is many times that of steel, hence the scientific interest in finding ways to artificially produce the material, which could eventually be used in making items such as bulletproof clothing, bandages and artificial tendons and ligaments.
Oliver, who plans to study natural sciences at university, said: “There’s quite a lot of research going on, but there are a lot of areas they’re trying to pin down. It’s at an embryonic stage in terms of producing a man-made version.”