Exciting news has come out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently after a group of scientists found a way to translate a spider web into music. The decoding of these silky structures provides much more than just alienesque musical notes as it may aid scientists in developing better 3D printers and overall understanding of our arachnid friends.
"The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings," said Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project's leading researcher. "They don't see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies. For example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web." Buehler was curious to see if he could translate these micro-movements into a melody of some sort. "Webs could be a new source for musical inspiration that is very different from the usual human experience," he said, therefore initiating the study.
But the study's implications evolved; Buehler and his team, along with collaborator Tomás Saraceno at Studio Tomás Saraceno, made a virtual reality setup that gives people the ability to "enter" the web. "The virtual reality environment is intriguing because your ears are going to pick up structural features that you might see but not immediately recognize," Buehler said. "By hearing it and seeing it at the same time, you can really start to understand the environment the spider lives in."
To get the insight they needed, the team scanned a web during a webbing process, transforming each string into different sounds. "The sounds of our harp-like instrument makes a change during the process, reflecting the way the spider builds the web," Buehler wrote. "So, we can explore the temporal sequence of how the web is being constructed in audible form." Through their scans, the team hopes to apply their findings to 3D "spider web" printers that could build microelectronics, which are complicated to make. "The spider's way of 'printing' the web is remarkable because no support material is used, as is often needed in current 3D printing methods," Buehler commented when presenting the findings to the American Chemical Society.
Buehler's team also believes that they could use their findings to create a means of communication with spiders. Throughout their scans, they recorded the arachnids performing different tasks such as webbing and warning other spiders. Using a machine-learning algorithm, they hope to classify the sounds to generate a systematic communication formula for Arachnids. Let's hope they reach their goal.