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Spider silk spun into superior violin strings

After 35 years of research, a Japanese scientist has discovered a way to create violin strings from spider silk — and the results are amazing.

(Biber mysterien image by Frinck51, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Shigeyoki Osaki of Nara Medical University in Japan has been studying spider silk for 35 years, with the latter decade focused on spinning the tiny filaments into violin strings.

The spider silk dragline -- the strongest kind -- has a tensile strength comparable to high-grade alloy steel, at about a sixth of the density. Osaki figured out a way to coax dragline silk from orb weavers bred in captivity, which he then twisted into bundles of 3000-5000 strands apiece. Then he twisted three of these bundles into a single string, the result of which is a tightly packed string with a unique polygonal cross-section.

The resulting string, which produces a "soft and profound timbre", was tested against strings made of steel, nylon and gut. The sound produced, said Osaki, has a brilliance unmatched by other strings, produced by the high harmonics of spider silk; other materials produce low harmonics.

Osaki has not yet discovered why spider silk produces this sound.

The strings will be more fully detailed in an upcoming edition of Physical Review Letters. Meanwhile, you can listen to the dulcet sounds of the spider silk in this excerpt of Tchaikovsky, played on a Stradivarius violin by Jun-ichi Matsuda.