Spiders spin sweet sounds

04/20/2012
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It’s not a fiddle – spider silk can be used as a violin string

TOKYO (majirox news) — While steel, or nylon has traditionally been used to string violins, a new source of strings for budding Paganinis has been discovered by Professor Shigeyoshi Osaki at Nara Prefectural Medical University. In his letter published in the April 13 issue of the Physical Review, Osaki reports on the vibration characteristics of spider silk.

More than 10,000 strands of so-called “dragline” threads were spun together and treated with a gelatin solution, forming a thread that is, weight for weight, stronger than steel. Not only is the resulting thread strong (as the result of changes in the cross-section of the threads when spun together), but the overtones produced when bowed as a violin string (on a Stradivarius) were richer and stronger than those from traditional strings.

But we have a long way to go before the symphony orchestras of the world start to re-equip their violins with spider strings. Though Osaki’s spider strings sound good, staying in tune may pose problems, due to the inelastic nature of the material.

There is another problem, in that there is still only one source of high-quality spider silk, and that is spiders. Isaki kept 300 spiders (nephila maculata – illustrated) to produce his strings, something that will not be lightly undertaken.

Even so, researchers look forward to commercial synthesis of the material, and foresee its uses in many fields, including music.

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