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Music makes better silk?

JohnInKansas 28 Mar 13 - 06:02 AM
GUEST,leeneia 28 Mar 13 - 10:17 AM
JohnInKansas 28 Mar 13 - 05:26 PM
Nigel Paterson 29 Mar 13 - 06:06 AM
GUEST,leeneia 29 Mar 13 - 11:12 AM
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Subject: Music makes better silk?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 28 Mar 13 - 06:02 AM

Scanned from the magazine. Might be accessible on the web, but I haven't checked yet.

Setting Silk to Music

Translating molecules into math and music could lead to better synthetic structures

Pound for pound, spider silk is one of the strongest and most resilient materials known. But new research by MIT's Markus Buehler and others might point the way to even better materials for a variety of applications—and an ear for music might be a key to creating these synthetic substances.

Buehler, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, has teamed up with a biomedical engineer, a materials scientist, a mathematician, and a music professor, among others, to devise a new approach to developing biologically inspired molecules.

"We're trying to approach making materials in a different way," Buehler explains, "starting from the building blocks"—in this case, the protein molecules that form the structure of silk. Buehler's previous research determined that fibers with a particular kind of hierarchical structure help to give silk its exceptional properties. Molecules form crystals or disordered aggregates, which are in turn assembled in particular sequences, and those sequences themselves are arranged in particular ways.

For its initial attempt at synthesizing a new material, the team chose to look at variations on that basic structure. This approach, which began with detailed computer modeling, led to some surprising results. Some arrangements worked much better than others that had seemed equally promising. "This taught us that it's not sufficient to consider the properties of the protein molecules alone," Buehler says. It's also necessary to "think about how they can combine to form a well-connected network at a larger scale."

The team found that one potentially useful way of thinking about these larger-scale properties is by translating them into music. The different levels of silk's structure, Buehler says, are analogous to the hierarchical elements that make up a musical composition—individual notes assembled into measures, which in turn form a melody, and so on. The team enlisted the help of composer John McDonald, a professor of music at Tufts, and MIT postdoc David Spivak, a mathematician who specializes in category theory. Together, using analytical tools derived from category theory to describe the protein structures, the team figured out how to translate the details of the artificial silk's structure into musical compositions.

The differences were quite distinct: strong but useless protein molecules translated into music that was aggressive and harsh, Buehler says, while molecules that formed usable fibers resulted in music that sounded much softer and more fluid. Buehler hopes that musical compositions might also be used to predict how well new variations of the material might perform.

—David L. Chandler
MIT News March/April 2013

Anybody want to compose a storage battery to see which kind makes the best music? (Recent news suggests a Li battery should have something like the live canon fire that the Boston Symphony used for their old recording of the "1812 Overture." Not sure that's what they meant by "soft and fluid.")


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Subject: RE: Music makes better silk?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 28 Mar 13 - 10:17 AM

That's interesting, John. I think the molecules produced might be "a graph made audible." And surely our ears, which are used to processing multifarious things like music from bands and orchestras, can handle that kind of data better than our eyes can. Can you picture the eyes deciphering a graph with 40 different lines on it?

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Subject: RE: Music makes better silk?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 28 Mar 13 - 05:26 PM

Leenia -

Being a highly trained(?) engineer I can imagine decifiphering a graph with 40 different lines on it and have done it often enough, although I can also deliver a number of lectures on how to make graphs comprehensible to the less skilled - for the less skilled ones who make those kinds of graphs.

My first thoughts on this article were that it might be applicable to the recent thread on "improvisation" but that thread didn't come up with a quick search, and on reconsideration this seemed to merit a thread of its own. I can see someone relating the "harmony" of the better silk to the ancient Greek determination that music and mathematics must be expressed in simple integer numbers/ratios in order to be "in step with nature." Someone might want to pursue whether nature is "better" when it's in agreement with our more modern math(+s for the *** Brits).

Like modern artists, some modern musicians have argued that the "disagreeable" is more "meaningful." For me, this arguments suggests "for lunatics" but others might want to offer their own nuances on the matter.

The question may be "how reliable is beauty as an indicator of utility?" - in general terms.


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Subject: RE: Music makes better silk?
From: Nigel Paterson
Date: 29 Mar 13 - 06:06 AM

Extremely interesting, but will need to re-read & re-read. The 'higher education' section of my brain has been dormant far too long!

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Subject: RE: Music makes better silk?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 29 Mar 13 - 11:12 AM

Sorry, John, but I don't believe you about the 40 different lines. Oh sure, if they were mostly parallel lines, but musical parts would be more complex than that. Picture the bassoon part, hopping through broken chords while the flute wafts through a smooth, melodious line. The tympani start and stop, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes loud, sometimes soft. Keep doing that for 30 musicians or 40 choir members.

Very hard to decipher, visually.

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