Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Plant scientist discovers basis of evolution in violins

09.10.2014

Studies of plant leaf shape relevant to musical instruments

What could the natural diversity and beauty of plant leaves have in common with one of mankind’s greatest creative inventions, the violin? Much more than you might imagine.

“There are many parallels between leaves and violins,” says Dan Chitwood, Ph.D., assistant member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Both have beautiful shapes that are potentially functional, change over time, or result from mimicry. Shape is information that can tell us a story. Just as evolutionary changes in leaf shape inform us about mechanisms that ultimately determine plant morphology, the analysis of cultural innovations, such as violins, gives us a glimpse into the historical forces shaping our lives and creativity.”

As a plant biologist, Chitwood spends most of his time exploring genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying diversity in plant morphology, or in layman’s terms, understanding how leaf shapes are formed and what that means for a plant to grow and thrive. He also studies how leaf shapes change as plant species evolve to adapt in different environments. Research into why a desert-adapted tomato species can survive with little water, for example, sheds light on how leaf architecture affects the efficiency of plant water use.

Chitwood’s research involves the tools of “morphometrics”, which can be used to quantify traits of evolutionary significance. Changes in shape over time provide insight into an object’s function or evolutionary relationships. A major objective of morphometrics is to statistically test hypotheses about the factors that affect shape.

But his love of music, and his talent playing the viola, led Chitwood to ask how musical instruments, particularly those designed by masters, evolved over time. Could shapes of violins tell us something about the function of the instrument, or about which violin makers (luthiers) borrowed ideas from others? Could the factors influencing violin evolution be analyzed and understood using the same morphometric approaches used to understand evolution of natural species?

Violin shapes have been in flux since the design and production of the first instruments in 16th century Italy. Numerous innovations have improved the acoustical properties and playability of violins. Although the coarse shape of violins is integral to their design, details of the body outline can vary without significantly compromising sound quality.

Chitwood compiled data on the body shapes of more than 9,000 violins from over 400 years of design history using iconography data from auction houses. The dataset encompasses the most highly desirable violins, and those of historical importance, including violins designed by Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, and Antonio Stradivari, as well as Stradivari copyists Nicolas Lupot, Vincenzo Panormo, and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

The results of Chitwood’s research werepublished in the article, “Imitation, genetic lineages, and time influenced the morphological evolution of the violin,” in the October 8th edition of the journal, PLOS ONE.

Chitwood found that specific shape attributes differentiate the instruments, and these details strongly correlate with historical time. His linear discriminant analysis reveals luthiers who likely copied the outlines of their instruments from others, which historical accounts corroborate. Clustering images of averaged violin shapes places luthiers into four major groups, demonstrating a handful of discrete shapes predominate in most instruments.

As it turns out, genetics also played a role in violin making.  Violin shapes originating from multi-generational luthier families tend to cluster together, and familial origin is a significant explanatory factor of violin shape. Together, the analysis of four centuries of violin shapes demonstrates not only the influence of history and time leading to the modern violin, but widespread imitation and the transmission of design by human relatedness.

As with all scientific papers, Chitwood’s article was rigorously peer-reviewed, in this case, by some of the world’s leading morphometrics experts. The critiques prior to publication led to improvements in the morphometric techniques used in the final analyses. Chitwood is now applying his improved methods to his plant research program at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

“This is a fantastic example of how advances in one field can help advance a seemingly unrelated field,” said Chitwood. “I’ll be a happy scientist and musician if by understanding violin evolution this helps lead to improved crop plants that are more productive and sustainable.”

###

For additional information, contact:
Karla Roeber, (314) 587-1231
Kroeber@danforthcenter.org
Melanie Bernds, (314) 587-1647
mbernds@danforthcenter.org

Melanie Bernds | Eurek Alert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona

nachricht Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>