The music of spider-silk strings.

BBC reveals a Japanese project that combines biology, engineering and beauty – spinning violin strings out of spider silk:

Shigeyoshi Osaki of Japan’s Nara Medical University has been interested in the mechanical properties of spider silk for a number of years.

In particular, he has studied the “dragline” silk that spiders dangle from, quantifying its strength in a 2007 paper in Polymer Journal.

Dr Osaki has perfected methods of obtaining large quantities of this dragline silk from captive-bred spiders and has now turned his attention to the applications of the remarkable material.

Dr Osaki used 300 female Nephila maculata spiders – one of the species of “golden orb-weavers” renowned for their complex webs – to provide the dragline silk.

For each string, Dr Osaki twisted between 3,000 and 5,000 individual strands of silk in one direction to form a bundle. The strings were then prepared from three of these bundles twisted together in the opposite direction.

A closer study using an electron microscope showed that, while the strings themselves were perfectly round, in cross-section the strands had been compressed into a range of different shapes that all fit snugly together, leaving no space between them.

Dr Osaki suggests that it is this feature of the strings that lends them their strength and, crucially, their unique tone.

Audio at the link.

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