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Airdate: Nov 14, 2000
Scientist: Scott Mitchen

Timeless Timber: Resonance

Timeless Timber: Resonance
If you want to make a fine violin, just do as Antonio Stradivarius did: use wood that's been under water for decades.

Transcript:
sans-serif"> ambience: Violin strings plucked

Hundreds of years ago, Antonio Stradivari crafted violins prized for the resonance and clarity of their sound. The instrument that we're listening to right now is not a Stradivarius, but it bears a kinship with the work of the master -- because before it was a violin, it was under water. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

"It's like not putting any effort into playing it, it plays itself. It just rings for a long time, it just has a beautiful resonance to it."

Debra Powers' violin is made of spruce and maple -- not especially rare trees, but this wood is special. It came from logs that were retrieved from the bottom of Lake Superior, where they had sunk during logging operations in the 1800's.

"There's something about wood that's been submerged in water that enlarges the cells of the wood and it helps it capture the sound. It's exactly how Antonio Stradivarius made his violins and his violins are the best in the world. He never made a violin out of wood that had not been submerged for over 50 years."

The waterlogged wood used to make Debra's violin was found in Lake Superior by scuba diver Scott Mitchen. He now heads a company called Timeless Timber, which retrieves and sells the lumber. The wood is being used in furniture and paneling, but it's especially valuable in making musical instruments, including drums, guitars and harps.

"What happens when you soak the wood for a period of years is the starchy, gummy matters that is in the cell walls of the wood is leached out over a period of time and it's replaced by water. When dried, you have a zillion hollowed-out cell walls that act like speaker cabinets that resonate the wood."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.