Spider silk has some amazing material properties, so there’s lots of enthusiasm for the prospect of using it to make something useful. Unfortunately, spiders aren’t domesticated, and attempts to make the silk proteins in other organisms haven’t been entirely successful. And then there’s the matter of what to do with silk once you have it. It doesn’t always cooperate with modern manufacturing techniques.
But some researchers in India figured out a way to get spider silk to play nicely with lasers. Under the right conditions, the silk itself helps amplify a laser’s power, to the point where it can either cut the silk in specific locations, or soften it to the point where it can be bent or welded.
The work relies on a physics effect termed “nonlinear multiphoton interactions.” In the simplest terms, the effect allows two photons of a given energy to act as a single photon of twice the energy (higher combinations are also possible). It’s a nonlinear effect, since it involves a sudden jump in energy; you don’t end up with any photons in between, at 1.5x the original energy.