photo credit: goatfarm5237/CC BY 2.0
by Melissa Breyer - Living / Culture
For years researchers have been drawing inspiration from spider silks to produce innovative, protein-based, eco-friendly materials for use in medical, cosmetic, electronic, textile, and industrial applications. Now a researcher in Japan has the used the dragline silk of 300 female Nephila maculata spiders to spin a set of violin strings.
Using between 3,000 and 5,000 individual strands of silk per string, Shigeyoshi Osaki of Japan's Nara Medical University, spun the strands in one direction to form a bundle, then twisted together three of the bundles in the opposite direction to complete each string.
According to the BBC (which also has a video of the sound), the spider-silk strings weren't as strong as traditional (but seldom-used) strings made from gut, but they were able to withstand more tension than aluminium-coated, nylon-core strings.
But it's their sound that has been noticed.
"Several professional violinists reported that spider strings...generated a preferable timbre, being able to create a new music," he wrote. "The violin strings are a novel practical use for spider silk as a kind of high value-added product, and offer a distinctive type of timbre for both violin players and music lovers worldwide."
Upon inspection using an electron microscope, the strings were shown to be perfectly round. In cross-section the strands were seen to be compressed in a unique polygonal packing structure--a range of different shapes that all fit together very tightly with no space between them.
Dr. Osaki believes that it is this feature of the strings that gives them their strength and unique tone--and that this unusual packing structure can provide important details for developing new type of materials in the future.
The work will appear the journal Physical Review Letters.