Scientists have translated the structure of a web into music

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Scientists in the US have brought the structure of a spider’s web to life by translating it into music – a technique that could help us interact with spiders, they say.

They assigned different sound frequencies to strands of the web and created ‘notes’ which they combined in patterns, based on the 3D structure of the web, to generate melodies.

The spooky piece of music, which lasts just over a minute, sounds like the soundtrack to a spooky dystopian sci-fi horror movie.

It was created by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) using laser scanning technology and image processing tools.

The experts say spider webs could be a new source of musical inspiration and provide a form of cross-species communication.

MUSICAL SPIDERSWEBS

Spiders are master builders, skillfully weaving from silk to intricate 3D webs that serve as the spider’s home and hunting ground.

Spider silk transmits vibrations over a wide variety of frequencies so that, when picked, the sound created contains information about the prey or the structural integrity of a web.

Spiders have poor eyesight, so they rely on the vibration of the silk in their web for information, such as exactly what their next meal is.

They receive the information with the help of organs on each of their legs, known as the slit sensillae.

Spiders can ‘tune’ the silk by adjusting the tension and connections to build a better web.

The project was led by Professor Markus Buehler, a materials scientist and engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Professor Buehler made headlines this time last year after translating the core protein structure of the coronavirus into a soothing musical arrangement.

“Webs could be a new source of musical inspiration very different from the usual human experience,” he said.

Professor Buehler’s team is interested in learning how to communicate with spiders in their own language.

They recorded web vibrations produced when spiders performed various activities, such as building a web, communicating with other spiders, or sending courtship signals.

Although the frequencies sounded the same as the human ear, a machine learning algorithm correctly classified the sounds in the different activities.

“Now we are trying to generate synthetic signals to actually speak the spider’s language,” said Professor Buehler.

‘If we expose them to certain rhythm or vibration patterns, can we influence what they do and start communicating with them? Those are really exciting ideas. ‘

Spiders are abundant in nature, with over 47,000 species.

But they have poor eyesight, so they rely on the vibration of the silk in their web for information, like where the next meal landed.

They receive the information with the help of organs on each of their legs, known as the slit sensillae.

Cross-sectional images (shown in different colors) of a spider web were combined into this 3D image and translated into music

Cross-sectional images (shown in different colors) of a spider web were combined into this 3D image and translated into music

Spiders can ‘tune’ the silk by adjusting the tension and connections to build a better web – making their web almost a musical instrument itself.

“The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” said Professor Buehler. “They don’t see very well, so they feel their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.”

Professor Buehler, a spider web expert interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs.

He collaborated with collaborator Tomás Saraceno, an Argentinian contemporary artist, on the project, which was based on a spider web spun by a tent web spider (Cyrtophora citricola).

This species is widespread in subtropical and tropical regions of Asia, Africa and Australia and tends to web on the guardrails of canal bridges.

The project is based on a spider web spun by a tent web spider (Cyrtophora citricola, photo)

The project is based on a spider web spun by a tent web spider (Cyrtophora citricola, photo)

The project is based on a spider web spun by a tent web spider (Cyrtophora citricola, photo)

The team scanned a C. citricola spider web with a laser to capture 2D cross-sections and then used computer algorithms to reconstruct the web’s 3D network.

They assigned different sound frequencies to strands of the web and created ‘notes’ which they combined in patterns, based on the 3D structure of the web, to generate melodies.

The researchers then created a harp-like instrument and played the spider web music in several live performances around the world before the coronavirus pandemic.

To complement this experience, the team also created a virtual reality (VR) setup that allowed people to ‘enter’ the internet visually and audibly.

“The virtual reality environment is really intriguing because your ears will pick up structural features that you might see, but don’t recognize right away,” said Professor Buehler.

Professor Buehler made headlines this time last year after translating the core protein structure of the coronavirus into a soothing musical arrangement.

Professor Buehler made headlines this time last year after translating the core protein structure of the coronavirus into a soothing musical arrangement.

Professor Buehler made headlines this time last year after translating the core protein structure of the coronavirus into a soothing musical arrangement.

‘By hearing it and seeing it at the same time, you can really understand the environment in which the spider lives.’

To gain insight into how spiders build webs, the researchers scanned a web during the construction process and converted each stage into music with different sounds.

“The sounds of our harp-like instrument change in the process and reflect the way the spider builds the web,” said Professor Buehler.

‘So we can investigate the temporal sequence of how the web is constructed in audible form.’

This step-by-step understanding of how a spider builds a web could help come up with ‘spider-mimicking’ 3D printers that build complex microelectronics.

“The way the spider prints the web is remarkable because it does not use supporting material, as is often required with current 3D printing methods,” adds Professor Buehler.

The researchers will present their results Monday at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

MIT uses AI to translate the protein structure of SARS-CoV-2 into a soothing musical arrangement

In 2020, researchers at MIT converted SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, into a musical composition.

The project was initiated by Professor Markus Buehler, who, together with a team from the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, created a machine learning tool that would translate amino acids from the virus into musical notation.

The team focused on the virus’s famous virus spike on the outer surface, which contains a braid of three different protein chains.

Each protein chain is made up of specific amino acid sequences, all of which wrap around each other in a complex structure that the machine learning tool has turned into notes for different instruments that are played over an hour and 49 minutes.

Buehler initially got the idea while devising ways to help the public conceptualize the virus without complex chemistry.

“These structures are too small to see with the eye, but they can be heard,” he told MIT News.

‘Our ears pick up all of its hierarchical characteristics in one movement: pitch, timbre, volume, melody, rhythm and chords.’

“We would need a powerful microscope to see the same detail in an image, and we would never be able to see it all at once.”

The resulting score is strangely serene and is diametrically opposed to the public health crisis the virus has caused around the world.

For Buehler, this paradox conveys an underlying truth about the virus’s deceptive nature, which he describes as “an intruder disguised as a friendly visitor.”

“The virus has an uncanny ability to deceive and exploit the host for its own replication,” Buehler said.

“Its genome hijacks the host cell’s protein production machinery and forces it to replicate the viral genome and produce viral proteins to make new viruses.”

For Buehler, hearing this dynamic as a series of sounds instead of a list of abstract words and numbers on the printed page could give people a new idea of ​​what the virus is and how it works.

“Through music, we can look at the SARS-CoV-2 peak from a new angle and appreciate the urgent need to learn the language of proteins,” he said.