New York: A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US have translated the structure of a spider web into music, which could have applications ranging from better 3D printers to cross-species communication and otherworldly musical compositions.
"The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings. They don't see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies," said Markus Buehler, from MIT.
Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web.
In the study, the team 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. They assigned different frequencies of sound to strands of the web, creating "notes" that they combined in patterns based on the web's 3D structure to generate melodies.
The researchers then created a harp-like instrument and played the spider web music in several live performances around the world and also made a virtual reality setup that allowed people to visually and audibly "enter" the web.
"The virtual reality environment is really intriguing. By hearing it and seeing it at the same time, you can really start to understand the environment the spider lives in," Buehler said.
The step-by-step knowledge of how a spider builds a web could help in devising "spider-mimicking" 3D printers that build complex microelectronics.
The team explored how the sound of a web changes as it's exposed to different mechanical forces, such as stretching. Further, in a bid to communicate with spiders in their own language they recorded web vibrations produced when spiders performed different 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 into the different activities. "Now we're trying to generate synthetic signals to basically speak the language of the spider," Buehler said.
The findings will be presented at the forthcoming spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).