Spider Silk Makes Plucky Violin Strings

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Violins strings were once made of catgut (which is actually sheep intestines, contrary to popular belief), and are now made mostly of metals and stranded nylon. But now there's another option: spider silk.

Shigeyoshi Osaki of Japan's Nara Medical University came up with the idea of twisting together thousands of spider silk strands. His strings use the "dragline" silk that anchors the webs.

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While most people think of spider webs as delicate, dragline silk is remarkably strong, with tensile strength about the same as steel. Spider silk has been used to make body armor and artists have used it to make cloth. It's even been used in a kind of bulletproof skin.

The silk Osaki used came from 300 female Nephila maculata spiders. Known as golden orb weavers, these spiders are native to Asia and are among the largest anywhere, with bodies an inch long and legs stretching up to seven inches.

Each string is made up of about 5,000 individual strands of silk twisted in one direction to form a bundle. Three such bundles were then twisted together in the opposite direction.

As it turned out, the spider silk strings were weaker than the traditional catgut, but stronger than the modern aluminum strings with nylon cores. When the strings were examined with an electron microscope Osaki found that the individual strands of silk left less space between them, because they would deform to different shapes under tension.

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That property also produced a tone that differed from the other materials, which Osaki described as "soft and more profound" in the abstract to his research, which will be in a future issue of Physical Review Letters. via New Scientist

Images: Shigeyoshi Osaki, Nara Medical University

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