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Researchers from Binghamton University have discovered that spider silk could potentially be used to create the best microphone in the world. Spiders use their webs not only to trap their prey but also to hear their environment. Unlike conventional microphones that detect sound pressure waves, spider silk responds to changes in the velocities of air particles in the sound field. This method of sound velocity detection is relatively unexplored but has great potential for high-sensitivity and long-distance sound detection.

The team found that spider webs match the acoustic particle velocity for a wide range of sound frequencies, allowing spiders to detect their prey using this mechanism. They conducted experiments with bridge spiders living on their lab windowsills by playing sounds ranging from 1 Hz to 50 kHz for them and using a laser vibrometer to measure the motion of the spider silk. The results confirmed that the sound-induced velocity of the silk matched the particles in the air, showcasing how spiders use their webs to sense their surroundings.

Professor Ronald Miles, an expert in mechanical engineering, was inspired to explore spider silk for microphone applications after realizing that insects that can hear sound use fine hairs or antennae that respond to the motion of the air in a sound field. Human-made fibers previously tested were too fragile and difficult to work with, leading the team to consider spider silk as a more viable option. Even though incorporating spider silk into billions of microphones yearly is impractical due to its origin, studying its mechanical properties could lead to entirely new designs and innovations in microphone technology.

The potential use of spider silk in microphones demonstrates the importance of understanding the natural world and how it can inspire advancements in technology. Professor Miles and his team’s research sheds light on the unique method that spiders use to detect sound and prey, offering insights into what mechanical properties are desirable in a microphone. By exploring new materials and design concepts inspired by natural phenomena, researchers can push the boundaries of sound detection technology and create more sensitive and efficient microphones.

The team’s presentation at a joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Canadian Acoustical Association in Ottawa, Canada, highlighted the significance of their findings and opened up a new avenue for research in sound detection. By studying how spiders listen to their environments through webs, researchers are gaining valuable insights into acoustic particle velocity detection and its potential applications in microphone technology. The use of spider silk as a source of inspiration for microphone design showcases the importance of interdisciplinary research and thinking outside the box to uncover innovative solutions for complex challenges.

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