Althouh I have really bad reactions to spider bites, I’ve always found spiders fascinating, not least because of their web-spinning ability and its ageless connection to the art of spinning and weaving (it’s from the story of Arachne that we get the word “arachnid”). As I child, I loved to sit and watch a spider spin a web from start to finish and I love to hear news about spider silk (one of the strongest materials by weight in the world) being used in interesting ways. So I was thrilled when I found this article about a scientist in Japan who has successfully made a full set of violin strings out of spider silk.

The scientist, Shigeyoshi Osaki, has been studying spider silk for 35 years, including its prospective use for bullet-proof vests and as surgical sutures. But when he heard violin music in church, he couldn’t forget the haunting tone it made and set about combining his new musical love with his research. He quickly discovered that he would need to learn more about how violins work, so he took lessons to learn how to play the instrument and has spent ten years on this project.

Go to the New Scientist article linked above to hear a sound clip of the spider string violin being played and read about the physics of what makes spider silk strings so unique (the spider silk actually changes its shape under torque in a way that may never have been documented before). I’m no violin expert, although it is one of my favourite instruments to listen to, but apparently serious violinists can hear the difference and are pleased with the complexity of the new sound.

This reminds me of a group I read about in Africa that wove a shawl out of spider silk threads, and, for all my fellow video game nerds, the silk farmers of the Webwood in Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning. I wonder if or when spider silk will become more commonplace, not just in items needing strength like bullet-proof vests and violin strings, but regular clothing. For the moment, the process of extracting the silk (usually the dragline thread is used) makes it prohibitively expensive, but Osaki is currently looking at ways to make it more affordable, which could have a far-reaching impact in our day-to-day lives. I would wear a spider silk blouse, wouldn’t you?