A scientist has developed a treatment for wood that will help musical instrument makers recreate the tones of a Stradivarius.
Professor Francis Schwarze of Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, has already demonstrated the qualities of his ‘mycowood’.
Now he is trying to scale up the production process.
In the late 17th and early 18th century, violin maker Antonio Stradivari used a special wood that had grown in the cold period between 1645 and 1715.
In the long winters and the cool summers, the wood grew especially slowly and evenly, creating the low density and high modulus of elasticity needed for the best tonal quality.
Schwarze has discovered two species of fungi that decay suitable wood in a way that reduces its density while retaining a stiff scaffold structure in the cells.
In 2009 violins made of this mycowood were played in a blind test along with a genuine Stradivarius from 1711.
Much to the surprise of all involved, the jury of experts and the majority of the audience thought the mycowood violin that had been treated with fungi for nine months was the actual Strad.
Currently Schwarze is working on an interdisciplinary project to develop a quality-controlled treatment for violin wood, with successful, reliable and reproducible results.
The aim is to make 30 more violins from fungally-treated wood by 2014.
Describing his hopes, Schwarze said: “The successful implementation of biotechnological methods for treating soundboard wood could in the future give young musicians the opportunity to play on a violin with the sound quality of an expensive – and for most musicians unaffordable – Stradivarius.”