Scientists want to use spider silk to make microphones work better


Having bits of spider’s web in your ear may not sound appealing but scientists have found that the silk produced by these creepy crawlies could be used to improve hearing devices.

Researchers from Binghamton University in New York have discovered that fine fibres like spider silk move with the air when hit by sound waves.

“This can even happen with infrasound at frequencies as low as 3 hertz,” said study author Ron Miles, a professor at Binghamton University.

Spider silk is delicate enough to move with the velocity of air. This means it is able to sense certain frequencies that are often too quiet to pick up on, even with powerful microphones.

Autumn weather Sept 26th 2017
Fine fibres such as spider silk can move with the air hit by sound waves (Ben Birchall/PA)

Spiders, along with insects such as mosquitoes and flies, use the hairs on their bodies to listen to sound – and the team wanted to recreate this type of hearing inside a microphone.

Prof Miles said: “We use our eardrums, which pick up the direction of sound based on pressure, but most insects actually hear with their hairs.”

The scientists coated the spider silk with gold and placed it in a magnetic field to get an electronic signal.

Using the spider silk allowed the researchers to improve the directional sensing of a wide range of frequencies – from infrasound to ultrasound – in their microphone.

Man using mobile phone
Researchers say their technology could improve microphones in mobile devices (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Prof Miles said: “It’s actually a fairly simple way to make an extremely effective microphone that has better directional capabilities across a wide range of frequencies.”

The researchers say this technology could have a significant impact, especially among those who need hearing aids – who would be able to eliminate background noise during a conversation in a crowded area.

The researchers say the same concept could be applied to the microphone inside mobile phones.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

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