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.”
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.