For Markus Buehler, materials engineer at MIT, a spider weaving a complicated web is evidently like a person composing music. In fact, each strand creates a unique sound that allows the animal to distinguish between a prey, a potential mate, or the movement of a breeze.
With the help of his colleagues, Bühler developed a way that enables us to virtually explore the spider web and admire its structure both visually and acoustically. The team used virtual reality for this purpose.
A work based on another that was done a few years ago
To design this somewhat peculiar tool, Bühler and his colleagues relied on the work of the artist Tomás Saraceno. In 2018, the latter developed an instrument called Spider’s Canvas in collaboration with MIT engineers. As a reminder, this is an interactive tool inspired by the web of a Cyrtophora citricola spider. To enable interaction with the web, researchers have now integrated a virtual reality component.
According to the explanations of the team, this work will allow us not only to better understand the three-dimensional architecture of a spider web, but also to learn the language of the spiders, which is based on vibrations.
“They (spiders) cannot see very well, so they feel their world through vibrations that have different frequencies,” said Bühler. In fact, a spider web isn’t just round and flat. Most are built in three dimensions.
Synthetic signals to “speak the language of the spiders”
As reported by Science Alert, scientists placed a tropical tent web spider “Cyrtophora citricola” in a rectangular structure to translate the structure of the web into music. They then used a laser to get 2D sections of the path formed by the animal.
Thanks to a complex algorithm, they were able to create a 3D architecture of these sections and assign each strand a specific sound frequency. In the end, the generated notes were played according to the structure of the canvas. Bühler doesn’t want to stop there. For example, he plans to use this new work to develop synthetic signals to communicate using the spider’s language.