Violin strung with spiders’ silk enables customisable acoustics

A student at Imperial College London has designed a violin from a composite material that includes spiders’ silk.

Luca Alessandrini, a postgraduate from the university’s Dyson School of Design Engineering, has developed a composite material and made a prototype violin – exploiting the resonating or vibrating properties of spiders’ silk.

Three strands of spiders’ silk, spun by an Australian Golden Orb spider, were implanted into the top side of the violin.

When played, the silk vibrates the violin’s composite casing, which is emitted as a sound. And in the musical world, this is known as propagation velocity – a phenomenon which is exploited by instrument makers to improve the acoustic properties of musical instruments.


In addition to the spiders’ silk, the composite material used to make the violin consisted of silk and a binding agent. The different fibres enabled Alessandrini to engineer the propagation velocity in the instrument, which in turn enables him to customise the acoustics, depending on the sound required.

This method could also be applied to the manufacturing of speakers, amplifiers and headphones.

“The amazing properties of spider’s silk mean that it serves many purposes,” explained Alessandrini. “It’s a home, a net for catching food and a means of communicating – via vibrations – when prey is ready to be pounced on and devoured.

“Spiders’ silk has only previously been exploited as string in bows for instruments, but I’ve discovered that the amazing resonating property of spiders’ silk has massive potential uses in instruments themselves.”

Creator Luca Alessandrini, a postgraduate from Imperial College London's Dyson School of Design Engineering. Images courtesy of Imperial College London

Creator Luca Alessandrini, a postgraduate from Imperial College London’s Dyson School of Design Engineering. Images courtesy of Imperial College London

The postgraduate student developed the prototype violin in conjunction with the Associazione Nazionale Liutai Artistici Italiani – one of the world’s most influential violin making associations.

He showcased the violin to Grammy-nominated violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved, who said: “I have been working with great violinists my entire career and I have been in discussions with makers and players about the limited capabilities of other manmade materials such as carbon fibre.

“These have not seemed to offer the organic subtleties of wood. My encounter with the prototype instrument developed by Luca has filled me with excitement. This approach offers a tremendous opportunity to move forward instrument making, using new materials in a way I have long hoped.”

The Golden Orb spiders’ silk – which is one of the strongest in the world – was sourced from Professor Fritz Vollarth at Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC