Why spiders ‘come out of the plughole’, the 400 million year old spider and other tales…All at the Museum of Grenoble.

26-05-2014

Ever wondered why spiders often seem to be in the bath? Is it possible to know what an ancient spider looked like? How many different silks does the average spider create? These are just some of the questions you can find answers to at an exhibition all about spiders at the Museum of Grenoble which has had more than 5000 visitors since it opened in Grenoble a month ago today.

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People of all ages have been able to see giant metallic models of spiders, to get involved with interactive exhibits and come face to face with the real thing. Spiders, whether you like them or not, are fascinating.

Among the displays are 3D printouts of spiders as they would have looked hundreds of millions of years ago and a piece of kit that has enabled scientists to observe the silk that spiders produce so that its properties can be studied. These are based on work that was carried out at the European Synchrotron, the ESRF.

The 3D spiders are recreations based on imprints left in, and preserved in, amber by a species no bigger than 2mm in size that existed millions of years ago.

To the human eye the amber appears as just a stone and the spiders, invisible, but X-ray scanning techniques available on the ID19 beamline (http://www.esrf.eu/UsersAndScience/Experiments/Imaging/ID19) at the ESRF have enabled scientists to see inside the amber and reveal intricate details about the spiders inside.

The information has then been used to develop models of the species that are a hundred times the size of the spiders, some of which were smaller than dust mites.

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This display at the museum features 3D reconstructions of spiders created at the ESRF that lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

 

The second display featuring ESRF work shows how scientists study spider silk to try and understand and recreate its structure. Spiders can produce up to seven different types of silk, some of which are known to be as strong as steel when scaled up and therefore are of great interest to scientists. It was at the ESRF that the first unique-diffraction signal from a single silk fibre was measured. (On beamline ID13: http://www.esrf.eu/UsersAndScience/Experiments/SoftMatter/ID13).

The exhibition showcases a piece of equipment that was used in some of the experiments to enable scientists to study silk from different spiders. The machine contains a small motor that pulls the silk directly from the spider so that it can be studied. Since these early experiments, scientists elsewhere have been looking at many different types of silk in different species of spider which have potential applications ranging from healthcare to security.

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The exhibition has activities for all the family including a story area and craft area.

Credit: Museum of Grenoble.

To find out why spiders are often in the bath… you’ll just have to go the museum...

The museum exhibition is on until March 2015 at the Museum of Grenoble. More details can be found here: http://www.museum-grenoble.fr/prog/expotemp/araignees/index_araignees.html

 

 

Top image: One of the spiders you can come face to face with at the exhibition