Making music with spider silk

Continuing in the let’s-just-steal-this-from-nature vein, researchers are Boston University, MIT and Tufts University are looking at spider silk. It’s one of the strongest substances on Earth, even stronger than steel, and researchers are trying to figure out how to harness that strength for human consumption.

The thing about spider silk is that is poses a conundrum. It’s made almost entirely out of protein, a substance that doesn’t usually stick together very well. But for whatever reason, weak protein molecules make for tougher silk than strong molecules.

To try and unlock this mystery, researchers are turning to the arts. They crafted mathematical systems that express how the molecules interact with each other, one for the strong protein molecules and one for the weak protein molecules, then handed them over to a composer. The composer then wrote music using the mathematics. The result was that the weaker proteins that made better silk also made better, more harmonious music, while the stronger proteins’ music was harsher and less pleasant. Not only does this discovery illustrate something new about spider silk, it could help researchers better understand the proteins that make up our bodies.

Civil and environmental engineering professor Markus J. Buehler explains how the music was written.

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