Soldiers and cops have historically had two things in common: Shitty pay and the risk of perforation. Throughout history they have endured these inequalities and personal dangers to allow us to evolve as a civilized society. For without their vigilance and protection, we’d have chaos and disorder. But we all know that, right?
From the Sumerians to the Indus, the Aegean’s to the Chinese (to their present Dirty-Ass Commie credit, the longest consistent civilization in the human story), the Romans to Lookout Mountain, they’ve all had armies for national defense, and cops for civil order. And the entire lot of them have spent the last 5,100 freakin’ years with rotten bastards trying to poke holes in them with items ranging from pointy rocks to the good ol’ seven-six-two-millimeter 148 grain full metal jacket.
Just imagine: As I now sip coffee leaning against the edge of a counter in a Kangaroo gas station wondering if some crack-head son-of-a-bitch is going to come in and spray the place with a MAC-10, some poor Sumerian bastard once had to lean against a rock or slave while sipping on fermented berries and honey wondering if some nimrod northern Iranian Elamite was going to come in and pelt him with stones or feces or whatever they used on the “street” back then. I find the parallel comforting yet disturbing at the same time. But I digress.
To avoid this, soldiers used thick animal skins for leather armor, and in countries where animals were scarce and armies large, they used thick woven reeds. (Yup: Grass armor.)
Wooden shields would supplement this, and as it was developed, metal armor became the choice where available, made famous by the Greeks and Romans, then the Knights of the Middle Ages.
Firearms changed this of course, and the body armor industry effectively started over when a very clever chick named Stephanie Kwolek was let out of the kitchen in 1965 just long enough, apparently, to develop “Kevlar” for the DuPont corporation, by spinning fiber from liquid crystalline solutions. Until this point in life I thought the only dangerous chick from the ’60s was the one that ran over the guy’s foot in the office with a John Deer lawnmower in an episode of “Mad Men,” but I totally stand corrected.
Kevlar was originally intended to replace steel belting in vehicle tires, but 10 years later it was field tested with cops as armor and that’s when the pulse of modern ballistic protection began beating.
And now in 2012, it’s skipped a beat. Literally.
Scientists, probably men due to the nature of the investigation, have known for years that spider silk is generally about five times stronger than steel and seven times stronger than Kevlar. It’s also more flexible despite its size and weight, particularly for something that goes from a soft goo in the gut of a spider to the solid thread it becomes when it leaves its body.
Its key is its elasticity. Just as Kevlar stretches to allow dispersal of the energy of a bullet, so does a spider’s thread to distribute the stress if an impact to the same effect, yet with greater capacity than Kwolek’s work for DuPont.
But the difference? DuPont is a multi-national conglomerate, while spiders are the very bastions of evil on this earth that have been scientifically established to climb up our bodies and, with sharp fangs, plant egg sacks in our necks which will inevitably erupt in a burst of baby spiders, swarming our bodies and beginning the cycle anew. Scientists know this shit, folks. Why aren’t you onboard?
Smart people since the beginning of time (time pre-dating civilized society) have had the freakin’ common sense to stomp on the dirty sons-of-bitches or throw heavy things at them upon first sight, but now that we’ve discovered an advantage, those same smart people are now trying to crack the genome profile of spider silk to synthesize the silk-making protein in an effort to mass-manufacture methods and produce them in volume.
Tomato plants (via seeds), bacteria, yeast, and even goats have been used as genetic vehicles. Silkworms are the newest vehicle for mass production, and while it’s affected the way I view ketchup, veal and bread in day-to-day life, that is now beside the point.
You see, scientific efforts have recently been redoubled with the discovery of yet a new spider discovered in 2010 on the island of Madagascar (known as Darwin’s Bark Spider, or C. darwini) that spins a web of nearly 2.8 square meters in diameter and with anchor strands of up to 75 feet that are up to 10 times stronger than Kevlar. The biggest spider webs in the world. (Shudder.)
After 5,100 years, we’re just getting around to using spider webs for body armor. Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? It does for the poor bastard soldier and cop, anyway … but it beats grass reeds and chains I suppose.
So, here’s to civilization—and an end to people trying to poke stuff into cops and soldiers. Because if we’re down to spiders for protection, should we even really be here?
Columnist Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.