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How Spiders Can Improve 3D Printing Technology

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a lot we can learn from spiders. Engineering professor Markus Buehler and his team at MIT have been studying them. They believe their research into spider silk could help create smarter 3D printers and stronger, greener building materials.

NOEL KING, HOST:

He and his team also made three-dimensional scans of spider webs and then translated those into music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARKUS BUEHLER: We're traveling through the spider web from one end to the other end at constant velocity. And as we go through, we're going to hear different sections of the spider web be excited. And we can hear those sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BUEHLER: So when the song is very busy in the beginning, it means there are many different types of threads connected.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BUEHLER: You hear the changes in the structure and the structural complexity in sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BUEHLER: Definitely sounds creepy, weird and unusual. But you're beginning to experience and have reference to something like a spider. And when you walk away, you become a little bit like a spider, perhaps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BUEHLER: Once you are able to explore the world of the spider, you could potentially communicate with the spider.

KING: That's right, he just said you could potentially communicate with the spider.

BUEHLER: These words aren't words in the traditional sense, but they're vibrational patterns that we're trying to generate and then, later, the web and see whether we can induce the spider to respond to that in some ways.

MARTIN: So we asked Buehler if he'd thought about what his first message to the spider would be.

BUEHLER: We're probably going to see whether we can attract the spider to come to us. But I think we'll probably start by simulating some prey being caught on the web.

MARTIN: In other words, lunch is served.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.