Experts can't distinguish the sound of a micowood violin from a Stradivrius.
The Swiss wood researcher Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze (Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen, Switzerland) has succeeded in modifying the wood for a violin through treatment with special fungi. This treatment alters the acoustic properties of the instrument, making it sound indistinguishably similar to a Stradivarius.
He discovered two species of fungi (Physisporinus vitreus and Xylaria longipes), which decay Norway spruce and sycamore -- the two important kinds of wood used for violin making -- to such an extent that their tonal quality is improved. "Normally fungi reduce the density of the wood, but at the same time they unfortunately reduce the speed with which the sound waves travel through the wood," the researcher explained. "The unique feature of these fungi is that they gradually degrade the cell walls, thus inducing a thinning of the walls. But even in the late stages of the wood decomposition, a stiff scaffold structure remains via which the sound waves can still travel directly." Even the modulus of elasticity is not compromised; the wood remains just as resistant to strain as before the fungal treatment -- an important criterion for violin making. Before the wood is further processed to a violin, it is treated with ethylene oxide gas. "No fungus can survive that,"...