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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stronger Than Steel, written by Bridget Heos with photographs by Andy Comins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $22.50 ages 12 and up

"Because spider silk is stronger than Kevlar, it has been proposed as a more lightweight material for bullet-proof vests. Randy says that the silk would need to be less stretchy than current bio-engineered silk. Otherwise, the vest would stop the bullet but stretch to the point that both the vest and the bullet went through the body."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just keeps coming up with worthy additions to their Scientists in the Field series. As usual, I started reading thinking that I would skim through the text finding those sections that I found most interesting. More than an hour later, I was reading every word, completely involved in the description of the work being done by Randy Lewis. Bridget Heos does another fine job of covering the amazing work of this geneticist.

Have you ever wondered how spider webs manage to withstand wind, weather and more to remain durable and strong. Turns out that the strongest spider silk is five times stronger than steel. How do we know that? Well, you just have to ask Randy Lewis. What does he do? He injects spider DNA into goats. And then? Well, he extracts what he needs from the milk of those goats to make spider silk that is artificial. It is also almost indestructible. What does he do with the artificial spider silk? It is his hope that it will someday be used to repair, and even replace, ligaments and tendons in the human body.

Well, that should get you interested enough to take a look at this amazing book. It is filled with fascinating science and unbelievably good color photographs that are sure to help readers to a better understanding of the processes being developed, and to raise an awareness of the strides being made in this field of this science.

Because it is so fine, so strong and has such flexibility, spider silk may be used to replace the titanium and aluminum outer coverings on aircraft, steel bridge cables, and is even touted to be the next protective vest instead of the Kevlar ones now being used. Making enough of it is sure to be challenging and will require a great deal of research. Advances in the field are allowing scientists to get and use the proteins that give spider silk its many remarkable attributes.

Added to the very clear explanations of the science and study involved and the exceptional photographs, Ms. Heos includes a terrific glossary, additional print and web resources, and a most useful index.

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