Cross-sectional images shown in different colors of a spider web, combined in a 3D image/Isabelle Su and Markus Buehler

Spiders are master builders, expertly weaving strands of lace to intricate 3D webs that serve as the spider’s home and hunting ground.

If individuals could enter the spider’s world, they could learn about web construction, arachnid behaviour, and more.

Yesterday, scientists reported they have interpreted the structure of a web into music, which may have applications ranging from better 3D printers to cross-species communication and otherworldly musical compositions.

The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings, says Markus Buehler, Ph.D. at MIT, the projects principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so that they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies. ” Such vibrations happen, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the internet.

Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered whether he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human source from natural materials, such as spider webs. Webs could be a new source for musical inspiration that’s extremely different from the usual human experience, he says.

In addition, by experiencing an internet through hearing as well as vision, Buehler and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), together with collaborator Tomás Saraceno in Studio Tomás Saraceno, hoped to gain new insights to the 3D architecture and construction of webs.

With these aims in mind, the researchers scanned a natural spider web with a laser to capture 2D cross-sections and then used computer algorithms to rebuild the net ’s 3D network.

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The team assigned different frequencies of sound to strands of the internet, creating “notes” that they combined in patterns depending on the web’s 3D structure to generate melodies. The researchers then created a harp-like instrument and played the spider web music in a number of live performances across the world.

The group also made a virtual reality setup that allowed people to visually and audibly “ input ” the internet. The virtual reality environment is really intriguing because your ears will pick up structural features that you might see but not immediately comprehend, Buehler says. “By hearing it and seeing it at the same time, you can really begin to understand the environment the spider lives in. ”

To gain insights into how spiders build webs, the researchers scanned a web during the building process, transforming each phase into music with different sounds. The sounds our harp-like instrument makes change throughout the process, reflecting the way the spider builds the net Buehler says.

“So, we can explore the temporal sequence of how the web is being constructed in audible form. ” This step-by-step knowledge of how a spider builds a web could help in devising “spider-mimicking” 3D printers that build complex microelectronics. The spiders way of prints the internet is remarkable because no support material is used, as is often needed in present 3D printing procedures, he says.

In other experiments, the researchers explored the way the sound of a web changes as it’s exposed to different mechanical forces, such as stretching. “ From the virtual reality environment, we can begin to pull the web apart, and when we do that, the tension of the strings and the sound they produce change. Sooner or later, the strands break, and they make a snapping noise, Buehler says.

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The team is also interested in learning how to communicate with lions in their own language. They listed web vibrations produced when spiders performed different activities, like building a internet, 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 into the different activities. Now were trying to create synthetic signals to basically speak the language of the spider, Buehler says. “If we expose them to certain patterns of rhythms or vibrations, can we influence what they do, and can we begin to communicate with them ? Those are really exciting ideas. ”

(LISTEN into the spider web music below.)


Source: American Chemical Society

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