Spider silk violin catches customized sound

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Luca Alessandrini with his prototype violin(Credit: Imperial College London)

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Spider silk may be known for being extremely strong, yet it's also elastic – that's how it's able to both hold struggling prey, and alert spiders to that prey by transmitting vibrations caused by those struggles. With these dual qualities in mind, a Design Engineering postgrad from Imperial College London has created a one-of-a-kind violin … using silk spun by an Australian Golden Orb Spider.

Running down the center of Luca Alessandrini's violin are three strands of the golden silk, embedded in the instrument's composite body. That body is also made from silk fibers, mixed with a binding agent.

When notes are played on the strings, the vibrations resonate through the three main strands and into the hollow body, creating sound. Known as propagation velocity, this principle is likewise used in the design of wood and carbon fiber violins.

In the case of Alessandrini's composite material, however, the acoustics can be finely altered by tweaking the manner in which the silk fibers are mixed with the binder. This could not only allow different violins to have different predetermined tones, but it means the material could also find use in high-end audio products such as speakers and headphones.

Luca has patented the technology, established a startup company, and is now looking for industry partners to help develop it further. He is hoping to have his spider silk violins in the marketplace by sometime next year.

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