Spiders are master builders, capable of skillfully weaving web threads into intricate 3D textures that serve as both a home and a hunting ground.
If humans could enter the spider world, they could learn about spider web construction, arachnid behavior, and more. Today, scientists report that they have translated the structure of a web into music. It's not folklore - it's research that could have applications ranging from better 3D printers to inter-species communication mechanisms. And of course also totally new musical compositions.
Researchers they will present their results today to the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Research on the "set to music" cobweb
"The spider lives in a world of vibrant threads," he says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the project. "They don't see very well, so they perceive their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies." Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk thread during the construction of the web, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web.
Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as cobweb. "The web could be a new source of musical inspiration that is very different from the usual human experience," he says. Buehler and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hoped to gain new insights into 3D architecture and networking. .
With these goals in mind, the researchers scanned a natural spider web with a laser to capture 2D cross-sections and then used computer algorithms to reconstruct the web's 3D network. The team assigned different frequencies of sound to threads of the web, creating "notes" which they combined into patterns to generate melodies. The researchers then created a harp-like instrument and played spider web music in several live performances around the world. Here is one:
Get into a spider's web
The team also built a virtual reality setup that allowed people to visually (and acoustically) "enter" a spider web. "The virtual reality environment is really intriguing because your ears will pick up structural features that you may see but not immediately recognize," says Buehler.
Listening to it and seeing it at the same time, you can really begin to understand the environment in which the spider lives.Markus Buehler
This step-by-step knowledge of how a spider builds a web could help design 3D printers "that mimic spiders". The way the spider 'prints' the web is extraordinary because no support material is used, as is often needed in current 3D printing methods.
The team is also interested in learning a communicate with spiders in their language. The researchers recorded the web vibrations produced when the spiders performed various activities, such as building a web, communicating with other spiders, or sending courtship signals. Although the frequencies sounded similar to the human ear, a machine learning algorithm correctly classified the sounds in the different activities.