Following the invention of the Spider/Web Scan—a novel, laser-supported tomographic technique created by Tomás Saraceno in collaboration with researchers at the TU Darmstadt that allowed, for the first time, precise 3D models to be made of complex spider/webs—Studio Tomás Saraceno has initiated an archive of 3-D digital spider/webs. Since the first use of this technique to scan the complex, three-dimensional Latrodectus mactans (‘black widow’) spider/web, this technique—and the insights into invertebrate architectures that it allows—has inspired numerous applications from different fields of thought, including biomateriomics, group animal behaviour, cosmology and network theory. In sharing this archive, we hope to inspire new readings and new lines of inquiry.
The Spider Web Scan is a laser-supported tomographic method created by Tomás Saraceno in collaboration with the Photogrammetric Institute, Technische Universität Darmstadt. Spider webs to be scanned are first built by the spiders in a carbon Spider Web Frame structure designed by Tomás Saraceno, with advice from arachnologists Peter Jäger and Samuel Zschokke. A sliding sheet laser (original setup: red laser, 650 nm) is then used to illuminate vertical slices of the 3D spider web, and 1-2 high-resolution camera(s) used to capture stereoscopic images of illuminated web sections. 2D images (x, y coordinates) are then processed to generate a 3D data model of the scanned web, via a Spider Web Digitization process, which can also involve manual reconstruction of dense and complex sections of the web.
The most recent iteration of the Spider Web Scanner proposes a more automated setup of the original method, and was developed in collaboration with MIT’s Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics, led by Markus Buehler. In this setup, a green sheet laser (532 nm) is used to illuminate 0.5mm slices of a 3D spider web housed in an open carbon Spider Web Frame. The setup also proposed an optimized automated capture system, and improved image processing and image-to-line algorithms.
Tomás Saraceno’s research into the webbed world of the spider arose with what appeared, at first glance, to be a relatively simple question:
"Is it possible to recreate a precise
of a spider’s web?"
From this initial question, Saraceno began a conversation with arachnologist Peter Jäger (Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany) to explore the possibility of creating a 3D scan of a natural spider web, and using these data to reconstruct a large-scale model of the web for an art exhibition. On Jäger’s suggestion, Saraceno focused on the web of a black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans (Fabricius, 1775)) – chosen because of the relative availability of this spider, and also for the large, complex 3D web that it weaves.
Early efforts to create a 3D scan of this web using existing scanning methods proved unsuccessful – as the unique properties of spider silk (the fineness and reflective qualities of the threads) made it unsuitable for capture by conventional approaches. As the experiments progressed, the collaborative dialogue also grew, enrolling the expertise of Samuel Zschokke (University of Basel) in web construction and evolution, and Christof Wulff (Technische Universität (TU) Darmstadt, Germany) in photogrammetric capture techniques. After exploring a number of different methods that proved inadequate to the task, Saraceno proposed the use of a sheet laser to illuminate and scan complex spider/webs. The successful technical development of this technique was then realized in collaboration with researchers at the TU’s Photogrammetric Institute.
From a two-year collaborative research effort to address this question, Saraceno pioneered the Spider Web Scan technique: a scientific method combining laser supported tomography with photogrammetric analysis, to allow the 3D-scanning of a spider web. This technique has since been developed and refined in cooperation with a number of other scientific institutions. The first successful deployment of this technique was in 2009, with the scanning of the complex, 3D web of the black widow spider.a
By using a new “tomographic” method with a laser illuminating each individual segment, it is possible to localize the threads in each segment. Each segment has a width of 5mm. By combining this method with Photogrammetry at the Technische Universitaet-Darmstadt we were able to accurately measure each thread inside these segments. Size of Perspex Cube:
50 x 55 x 30cm. Two cameras (Canon EOS 5D Mark II / Canon TS-E 90mm Lens (tilt-Shift)) with a distance of 147 cm to the laser layer, and 20 cm to each other. 110 pairs of stereoscopic - photogrammetric pictures have been analyzed at for the final web.
Dark room, 5 x 10 metres. You can make your own by covering walls and windows with black Molton
Three-dimensional spider web, built in a carbon frame. In Southern Europe, you might collaborate with a Cyrtophora citricola that builds a three-dimensional tent web. In Northern Europe, you could try this experiment with a Steatoda web. In Australia and SE Asia, …. In Africa, …...
Green sheet laser 532 nm with a width of 1 mm
Single high-resolution camera (for example Canon EOSD, with images upwards of 5184 pixels x 3456 pixels)
24-70 mm f/4 L EF IS USM lens
Remote control camera shutter timer
A moving rail, assembled from:
2 x linear shafts (stainless steel), 1200 mm long / 12 mm diameter
2 x L-shape aluminium beam
CNC controller board
24V stepper motor (holding torque 6 Nm; step angle 1.88; subdivision of 16; wheel diameter 2cm)
Small pieces (ironware, linear bearings, rubber belt, supporting stand, table, extra parts, camera fixations etc.)
Desktop computer and screen for 3D resolution
Set the 3D spider/web on a stable surface in a prepared dark room.
The camera should be centred onto the first moving rail.
The green laser should be positioned on the second moving rail, which is parallel to the first rail. The laser beam should be at a 90 degree angle to the camera axis.
Laser and camera should then be synchronised.
The shutter timer and stepper motor should also be synchronised, allowing a 3 second pause between each snapshot.
Following synchronisation, image capture can occur by moving the rail (camera and laser) in 0.5 mm increments through the web, at intervals of 11 seconds to allow time for stabilization between image captures.
Repeat the process until the entire spider/web is scanned. Depending on the complexity of the web, this might take upwards of 660 images to visualize the entire fibre architecture.
Use image processing software to transform the 2d images into a 3D skeleton frame. The images may require processing to reduce noise
Since its original development, the Spider Web Scan has been taken up, developed and refined in collaboration with a number of other scientific institutions, who have deployed the technique in studies spanning biomimicry and biomateriomics to animal social behaviour.
Spider Web Scanner 1.0
Web scanned: Latrodectus mactans (black widow)
Technical setup: Web housed in perspex container; red sheet laser (650 nm) used to illuminate 1 mm sections of the web; non-automated capture of stereoscopic images of each illuminated slice via two (2) DSLR cameras; scanned data converted to digital web model using computational methodology refined by the studio
Collaborative team: Studio Tomás Saraceno with: Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum Frankfurt (Peter Jäger, advice on selection of spider species/web typology); Institut für Photogrammetrie und Kartographie, TU Darmstadt (Christof Wulff).
Scientific outputs 3D-Rekonstruktion von Spinnennetzen. Luhmann, T. (2010). In Nahbereichsphotogrammetrie: Grundlagen, Methoden und Anwendungen (3rd editio, pp. 610–611). Heidelberg: Wichmann Verlag.
Festschrift anlässlich der Pensionierung von Dr.-Ing. Rolf-Dieter Düppe nach 36 Jahren am Institut für Photogrammetrie und Kartographie. Wulff, C. (2010). In Schriftenreihe / Fachrichtung Geodäsie, Fachbereich Bauingenieurwesen und Geodäsie, Technische Universität Darmstadt (Vol. 30, pp. 101–108). Darmstadt: Technische Universität Darmstadt.
Spider Web Scanner 2.0
Web scanned: Cyrtophora citricola
Technical setup: Spider Web Scanner 1.0 setup, with the following modifications: use of open carbon frame to house the spider web; red sheet laser used to illuminate 0.5mm slices of the web (allowing better visualisation of the fibre architecture); use of single DSLR camera (Canon EOS 5D Mk III) for image capture.
Collaborative team: Studio Tomás Saraceno with IIT (Italian Institute of Technology) Genoa, Italy.
Spider Web Scanner 3.0
Web scanned: Latrodectus mactans (black widow) and Cyrtophora citricola
Technical setup: Spider Web Scanner 2.0 setup, with the following modifications: automated image capture process.
Collaborative team: Studio Tomás Saraceno with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (CAST and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, led by Markus Buehler).
Scientific outputs Structural and mechanical analysis of the black widow spider web subjected to stretching, expansion and wind. Demien, B. (2014). Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Spider Web Scanner 4.0
Web scanned: Cyrtophora citricola single and communal spider/webs
Technical setup: Spider Web Scanner 3.0 setup, with the following modifications: use of Sony Alpha7s camera for image capture.
Collaborative team: Studio Tomás Saraceno with Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Animal and Collective Behaviour Group, led by Alex Jordan/ Matthew Lutz)
Spider Web Scanner 5.0
Web scanned: Cyrtophora citricola
Technical setup: Spider Web Scanner 3.0 setup, with the following modifications: green sheet laser (532 nm) used to illuminate 0.5mm slices of the web; new optimized automated capture system; improved image processing and image-to-line algorithms
Collaborative team: Studio Tomás Saraceno with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering led by Markus Buehler)
Scientific outputs Imaging and analysis of a three-dimensional spider web architecture. Su, I., Qin, Z., Saraceno, T., Krell, A., Mühlethaler, R., Bisshop, A., & Buehler, M. J. (2018). In Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
Since its creation, the Spider Web Scan method has inspired a suite of collaborative applications across different scientific and applied research domains, through which the original method has since been modified and expanded.
Studio Tomás Saraceno’s collaboration with MIT’s Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM, led by Professor Markus Buehler) and Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST, led by Professor Evan Ziporyn) began in 2012.
Brief history of collaboration: In 2012, Saraceno was invited by MIT’s Leila Kinney as the Inaugural Visiting Artist at the newly established MIT Centre for Art, Science and Technology (CAST), led by Professor Evan Ziporyn. From this invitation, Saraceno was introduced to Buehler, and the work of his lab into the biomateriomics of spider/webs and spider silk. After several productive, stimulating and invigorating discussions, a long-term collaboration was borne - which tests the boundaries of scientific disciplines, toward new ways of thinking together to address the emergent and multifaceted issues arising from the entanglements between human and nonhuman worlds in the Anthropocenic era.
In a continuing collaboration with the MIT LAMM (led by Professor Markus Buehler), the Spider Web Scan apparatus and method has been refined, automated, and used to study the functional dynamics of web architectures. Inspired by the potential insights into material engineering that could be generated by Studio Tomás Saraceno’s Spider Web Scan apparatus and method, this team of MIT researchers have used the Spider Web Scan technique to generate novel data about the material properties of complex spider/webs for possible application across art, architecture, engineering and material science, while working collaboratively with the studio to optimize the scanning system. This collaborative research uses the spider/web as an entry point for reflecting on the role of biomimicry—the creative application of natural systems and processes towards solutions for anthropogenic environments—and biomateriomics—the holistic study of biological material systems. Saraceno and Buehler have presented the outputs of their collaboration in a number of formats, including public symposia at MIT and scientific publications.
Recently, and on the invitation of Saraceno to realise a musical performance for his ON AIR exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, our collaborators at MIT (including researchers from both LAMM and CAST) used a 3D model of a scanned, quasi-social Cyrtophora citricola web to generate a 3D digital spider web musical instrument.
This instrument generates a navigable soundscape by using data sonification to transform the web’s spatial topology into audio signals, and data visualisation to create an immersive encounter. The 3D spider web instrument and interface - designed by Markus Buehler, Evan Ziporyn and MIT researchers Isabelle Su and Ian Hatwick was generated via the most recent collaborative refinement of Saraceno’s Spider Web Scan. It then formed the basis of a musical score realised by Ziporyn in collaboration with Su and musician Christine Southworth. This work, The Spider’s Canvas, premiered at an immersive concert hosted during Saraceno’s ON AIR exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in November 2018, and supported by Festival dÀutomne, Paris . This concert emerged from myriad interactions between different disciplines, in an effort to work together - and extend the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge and practices - toward new understandings of emergent human and non-human entanglements.
In ongoing experiments with group animal behaviour researchers from the Max Planck Institute, the Spider Web Scan has been used in conjunction with a real-time tracking system to study web-building behaviour of semi-social spiders, in parallel with analyses of different stages of web architectures.
Inspired by Saraceno’s extensive collection of three-dimensional spider/webs—the largest in existence—and by the possibilities of the Spider Web Scan, in 2016 the studio was approached by Iain Couzin and Alex Jordan from the Max Planck Institute (Konstanz) to begin a collaborative research endeavour. Sharing these resources and methods offers the potential to generate new insights into the collective behaviour of social and semi-social spider species, and the relationship of group behaviour to the materiality and signaling properties of the spider/web. In 2017, a postdoctoral researcher from the Jordan Lab, Matthew Lutz, joined the studio for a one-year research residency to study the relationship between web structure and sociality, using the Spider Web Scan technique to study the complex spider/webs of semi-social Cyrtophora citricola spiders.
In 2014, Studio Tomas Saraceno continued technical experiments and development of the Spider Web Scan technique and apparatus, working with the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Italy, and in consultation with arachnologist Peter Jäger at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Frankfurt am Main.
From these experiments, digital photographs of a three-dimensional Cyrtophora citricola spider web were produced. Instructed by Saraceno, technicians at the Pattern Analysis and Computer Vision department at ITT produced different images depicting a 10 mm section of this complex 3-D web. The
research was conducted in collaboration with:
Alessio Del Bue (Researcher, PAVIS department: 3D reconstruction from images);
Paolo Bianchini (Researcher, Nanophysic department: Optical setup configuration);
Carlos Beltran Gonzalez (Technician, PAVIS department: image calibration, acquisition and analysis); and
Vittorio Murino (Head of PAVIS department: Coordinator)
The next step in this process was to develop a computational methodology capable of extracting digital data from the spider web scans. Working with his studio team, Saraceno developed the Spider Web Digitization method – which allowed 3D information about the Latrodectus mactans web to be assembled from 110 pairs of stereoscopic slides of the web captured by the scanning process. Structural ‘gaps’ in the scanned images – areas of the webs where the stereoscopic photos were unable to capture the detail of the silk thread structure – were reconstructed after an analysis of the total web architecture. Through a process called orthographic projection these data were compressed into two dimensions, creating a map of intersecting black lines – with each line and each point assigned a unique number.
The final stage of this intensive research process was the development of an analogue method for reconstructing a physical, large-scale 3D-model of the web, based on the 3D scanning and digital data. To this end, Saraceno and his studio team developed the Spider Web Reconstruction method, which was realised and refined during the construction of a 17:1 scale installation of the Latrodectus mactans spider web, realised for the art installation 14 Billions (Working Title) at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm in 2010. This groundbreaking installation offered a novel human-scale perspective on complex animal architectures, and provided a physical model for visualising parallels between arachnid and cosmic geometries.