Spider silk could be used to power microphones in hearing aids, cell phones

October 30, 2017, Binghamton University
New research from Binghamton University, State University of New York shows that fine fibers like spider silk actually improve the quality of microphones for hearing aids. Credit: Jian Zhou

Would you want a spider web inside your ear? Probably not. But if you're able to put aside the creepy factor, new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York shows that fine fibers like spider silk actually improve the quality of microphones for hearing aids.

Binghamton University distinguished professor Ron Miles and graduate student Jian Zhou recently published a study in titled "Sensing fluctuating airflow with silk" that should lead to better microphones for hearing aids than traditional pressure-based systems.

Miles has done a number of studies looking at what we can learn from insects when it comes to hearing. He explained, "We use our eardrums, which pick up the direction of sound based on pressure, but most insects actually hear with their hairs." The spider silk is able to pick up the velocity of the air instead of the pressure of the air.

Mosquitos, flies and spiders all have fine hairs on their bodies that move with the sounds waves traveling through the air. Miles wanted to recreate this type of hearing inside a .

Their microphone improves the directional sensing across a wide variety of frequencies that are often too quiet for microphones to pick up on. For someone with a , that means being able to cancel out background noise when having a conversation in a crowded area. The same concept could be applied to the microphone inside cell phones.

Spider silk is thin enough that it also can move with the air when hit by soundwaves. "This can even happen with infrasound at frequencies as low as 3 hertz," said Miles. Sound at that frequency is typically inaccessible. It'd be equivalent to the tectonic plates moving in an earthquake.

The study used spider silk, but Miles explained that any fiber that is thin enough could be used in the same way.

While the spider silk picks up the direction of airflow with great accuracy, that information has to be translated into an to be of use.

Binghamton University distinguished professor Ron Miles. Credit: Binghamton University, State University of New York
"We coated the spider with gold and put it in a magnetic field to obtain an electronic signal," said Miles. "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 study is a game-changer for microphones but may also tell us something unique about spiders, said Miles. He and Zhou speculate that because is so good at sensing air flow, it's possible spiders can hear through their own web on top of what they are already known to hear through the small hairs on their bodies.

Explore further: Nanomaterials help spiders spin the toughest stuff

More information: Jian Zhou el al., "Sensing fluctuating airflow with spider silk," PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1710559114

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betterexists
not rated yet Oct 30, 2017
Thinking of unique skills of so many species of animals around us makes you wonder how incapacitated we humans are, but for the brains. It is high time to transfer our brain cells into some DOCILE species and see whether they can COMMUNICATE with us INTELLIGENTLY. Almost all of us eat, need oxygen, walk, mate and reproduce and sleep ! Hopefully new gene editing technique should play a role in this endeavor to surmount the immunological block that exists !
DonGateley
not rated yet Oct 31, 2017
I sure would like to have seen a diagram or picture to illustrate the configuration that this article is talking about. It leaves more questions than answers.

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