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Spiders Are the Partners in this 'Inter-Species Collaboration'

Technological advances have always influenced art. Think synthetic dyes or the invention of photography. Now, artists are diving into the realms of nanotechnology, genetics, and artificial intelligence. And MIT is leading the way. 

One installation at MIT, called Spider’s Canvas, features a three-dimensional spider web that makes sounds. It was one of the works shown during a February 26 symposium at MIT.

According to MIT, Spider’s Canvas is “an exploration that sonifies the threads of a spider web, was designed, constructed, and performed by a team brought together by MIT’s Center for Art, Science, and Technology (CAST).”

“Civil engineers are so interested in [spider webs] because they're amazing structures,” Leila Kinney told Living Lab Radio. “They’re 3-D structures, without scaffolding, in space. The actual protein in the spider silk has amazing tensile strength as well as elasticity.”

Another connection has to do with the origin of the universe, Kinney said.

“When physicists and cosmologists talk about the origin of the universe, they often use the metaphor of a spider's web for what it might have looked like just after the Big Bang,” she said.

The piece, which is now in the Nano Building, is a sonic landscape which functions as either an installation or as a performance, Kinney said.

“We call it an inter-species collaboration,” she said.

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Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.