I remember when I was younger (around 2008-2012) I used to read a lot of "classic" science fiction. Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, etc. This was either a short story perhaps published as part of a collection, or less likely a small section of a larger novel.

The setting was a modern academic one, perhaps a college or university campus. Some of the students there have basically invented a Star Trek-style matter replicator/molecular assembler. One of the students wants to prove a point to a specific professor, so they steal that professor's Stradivarius violin and use the machine to make an exact copy of it. They then replace the professor's Stradivarius with the copy and show up to his lecture the next day with the original.

The student presents the original and tells the professor it is a copy. The professor tries it out, says it doesn't sound authentic at all and nearly smashes it on the ground before the student stops him.

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    Details differ, but this resembles one of the stories that make up The Complete Venus Equilateral by George O. Smith.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 2, 2021 at 14:23
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    Plot twist: the two violins are identical, but only because the process modifies the original as well :)
    – chepner
    Sep 2, 2021 at 14:57
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    @ZarHakkar When Larry Niven was young, "Classic" science fiction was stories by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E.E. Smith, Ray Cummings, Isaac Asimov, etc. I am not sure he would like his stories described as "classic" science ficiton.would Sep 2, 2021 at 16:20
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    @M.A.Golding - Sad when Niven is described as "classic" sci-fi along with Asimov (probably also Heinlein). Youngsters these days ... no sense of history ...
    – davidbak
    Sep 2, 2021 at 22:49
  • @davidbak: Why, whatever do you mean? I've enjoyed classical music by composers such as Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Ives all my life. Sep 4, 2021 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Sounds like Democritus' Violin by G. David Nordley, originally published in the April 1999 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

A member review of Year's Best SF 5 from LibraryThing offers a summary of the plot:

"Democritus' Violin", G. David Nordley -- In some ways, this is one of those hackneyed stories that critics of Analog, site of this story's original publication, point to when unfairly badmouthing that magazine. Its college politics of a music professor and a physics professor conducting a long running feud was improbable, and the conflict between the scientific reductionism of the narrator and the claims of spiritual ineffability by the music professor is an old story. The conflict, here, specifically centers around recreating, through nanotechnology replication, a perfect copy of a Stradivarius violin. Making matters worse is one of those smart alecky young geniuses in the role of narrator which I hate. For me, the main point of interest (and it's a fairly idiosyncratic interest) is the many disguised references, in Nordley's fictional Lloyd College, to our mutual alma mater: Macalester College. Of course, the narrator succeeds in her efforts.

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    Just about to post this. Must be the story.
    – Villan
    Sep 2, 2021 at 14:28
  • and of course, that's not the proper scientific method at all, for precisely the reason show in the story. they should present him with both violins (better yet, three) and dare him to find the original.
    – ths
    Sep 3, 2021 at 13:40
  • @ths - the point of the maneuver they pulled was not to truly test. It was to make the music teacher look bad, and claim status.
    – Ben Barden
    Sep 3, 2021 at 13:50

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