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March 05, 2012

Spider silk spun into violin strings

BBC News - A Japanese researcher has used thousands of strands of spider silk to spin a set of violin strings. The strings are said to have a "soft and profound timbre" relative to traditional gut or steel strings.

Physical Review Letters - Spider silk violin strings with a unique packing structure generate a soft and profound timbre

We overcome the difficulties in pulling long draglines from spiders, twist bundles of dragline filaments and succeed in preparing violin strings. The twisting is found to change the cross section shapes of filaments from circular to polygonal, and to optimize the packing structure with no openings among filaments providing mechanically strong and elastic strings. The spider string signal peaks of overtones for the violin is relatively large at high frequencies, generating a soft and profound timbre. Such a preferable timbre is considered to be due to the unique polygonal packing structure which provides valuable knowledge for developing new type of materials.




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.

"Bowed string instruments such as the violin have been the subject of many scientific studies," he writes.

"However, not all of the details have been clarified, as most players have been interested in the violin body rather than the properties of the bow or strings."

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.

He then set about measuring their tensile strength - a critical factor for violinists wishing to avoid breaking a string in the midst of a concerto

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