What talented young violinist has not dreamt of playing on a Stradivarius, that non plus ultra of the violin-maker's art? Unfortunately, of course, these instruments are rare, and well beyond the budget of most musicians. "Imitations" of similar tonal quality are therefore very sought-after, and the Empa researcher Francis Schwarze has managed to achieve this feat with the help of a Swiss violin maker. By treating the wood with Physisporinus vitreus, a white-rot fungus which attacks and destroys certain structures in spruce, he was able to create a material with extraordinarily good tonal qualities. So good in fact that the new "fungus violin" put its own role model in the shade. At a specialist conference in 2009 two of the new instruments were compared in a blind test to a Stradivarius and both the jury of experts and the conference audience judged their sound to better than that of the violin made by the Italian Master of Cremona.
Schwarze now intends to develop a standardized biotechnological process so that sufficient fungally-treated wood can be produced to make instruments in respectable numbers. This is the only way that would allow an industrial partner interested in the technology to manufacture the violins on a quasi-"mass-produced" basis. In order to create the necessary bridge between science and industry it is vital to develop technologies which offer potential partners significant commercial advantages. In this case this means standardizing the wood treatment parameters to such an extent that a specific tonal quality can be guaranteed. This is not an easy task to accomplish with a material such as wood which is subject to natural fluctuations in quality.
Generous support from the Walter Fischli Foundation
In the Walter Fischli Foundation the Empa scientist has found financial support which will enable the "fungal violin" project continue. Explaining why he decided to provide funding for Schwarze's work, Walter
|Contact: Prof. Dr. Francis Schwarze|
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)