Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

The Biotech Stradivarius

On Sept. 1, an audience of experts took part in a blind test of five violins. One of the violins was a $2 million Stradivarius, made in 1711 by the greatest stringed-instrument maker of all time. Another was a modern violin made of wood that had been specially treated by Professor Francis Schwarze of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research. Schwarze used two fungi to alter Norwegian spruce and sycamore to closely resemble the wood Stradivarius used, then commissioned a violin maker to build an instrument with them. The listeners were asked to identify the Strad, and 113 picked Schwarze's violin. The actual Stradivarius got only 39 votes.

One theory has it that Stradivarius' violins sound better because the craftsman lived in a brief climatic period that produced particularly high-quality wood