GOOD

Spiders Have Super-Hearing Powers — And Scientists Think We Can Steal Them For Ourselves

If Spider-Man were scientifically accurate, he’d be able to detect the faintest sounds in any crowd with ease.

Trying to keep up with a conversation — or simply make out any important noises — in a crowd can be an annoying experience. It may even feel like you’ve got cobwebs in your ears. And for people with decreased hearing, it’s even more frustrating. Thanks to new research, though, real cobwebs could one day help people hear more clearly than ever before.

Spiders generally have pretty bad eyesight, but they do have a unique way to hear the world. Like many creepy-crawlies, they’re covered in tiny super-thin hairs. Especially on their legs. These hairs aren’t just for style though: They can detect changes in the air, along with sound waves.


“We use our eardrums, which pick up the direction of sound based on pressure, but most insects actually hear with their hairs,” said Binghamton University distinguished professor Ron Miles in a press release. Which means, yes, spiders can hear through their legs. There’s even evidence that a spider can hear vibrations through its web.

Scanning electron micrograph of a brown recluse spider. Photo by Leah Lowrey, Michael Smith, CDC/Public Health Image Library.

Inspired by these amazing creatures, Miles and graduate student Jian Zhou decided to see if they could replicate this feat inside a microphone. What they found could eventually change how we — or at least our devices — listen to sounds altogether.

Both the human eardrum and conventional microphones work by sensing changes in air pressure (sound is basically pressure waves in the air, after all). It turns out, though, that fine fibers like spider silk can pick up not only the pressure wave, but also its speed and direction.

This adds a lot of new information and might give future microphones a better way not just to hear a noise, but to tell exactly the direction it came from. Hearing aids, for instance, might be able to better recognize and distinguish between important information and background noise. Suddenly that conversation in a crowd would become much more clear.

Professor Ron Miles. Photo by Binghamton University, State University of New York.

This could also work in other microphones as well, such as those found in cellphones. The secret that allows spider silk to do this is how thin, light, and strong it is. Miles and Zhou could even get it to sense super-low-frequency sounds normally well below the range of human hearing.

In order to make the organic silk work with electronics, the fiber was coated in gold and put inside a magnetic field. Miles and Zhou used spider silk, but say that any similarly thin and strong fiber could theoretically work. According to their paper, other methods have been used to try to help microphones detect directionality, but have proven hard to scale down to tiny sizes.

Photo by Claudia/Pixabay.

Spiders might not look like the acoustic masters of the animal kingdom, but by learning more about their incredible biology and engineering, we can one day help clear out all those cobwebs in our ears and hear the world better than ever.

Miles’ research on this was published in the journal PNAS.

Health
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
test
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics