February 25, 2013
A Real Spider-Man Could Stop A Moving Train, Study Shows
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Movies and comic books are primarily based on fantasy, but a new study shows how one particular concept involving Spider-Man might be more feasible than most superpowers.
In the movie Spider-Man 2, the Marvel comic character uses his webs to help stop a runaway train before it plummets off the end of the track. Although Hollywood tends to lean towards the side of the unbelievable, the physicists wrote about just how believable this scene actually is in the Journal of Physics Special Topics.
"Spider-Man has always been claimed to have the scaled up abilities of a spider and spiderweb has oft been quoted to be stronger than steel," University of Leicester physics student James Forster told redOrbit. "We wanted to see whether or not Spider-Man's web, when pushed to its limits, was a reasonable facsimile of real spider's web and in so doing we also show what real spiderwebs would be capable of if used on a human scale."
"Since humans have recently acquired the ability to produce large quantities of usable spiderweb this provides evidence of their applicability to high-tension engineering," Forster added.
During the study, the students calculated the force needed to stop the four R160 New York City subway cars. For the calculations, they included the momentum of the train at full speed, the time it takes the train to come to rest after the webs are attached, and the driving force of the powered R160 subway car.
They believe the force Spider-Man's webs would exert on the train is about 300,000 newtons, and with this they also calculated the strength and toughness of the webs. They found the stiffness of the web would be 3.12 gigapascals, which is a reasonable estimate for silk because it ranges from 1.5 gigapascals to 12 gigapascals.
The team also calculated the toughness of the silk was almost 500 megajoules per cubic meter, falling in line with web from a Darwin's Bark Spider, known for the strongest webbing of any spider.
After all these considerations, the physicists concluded Spider-Man´s webbing is a proportional equivalent to that of a real spider, making it feasible for him to have stopped a moving train.
"Our favorite part of this study was the surprise that Spider-Man, at least as far as webbing is concerned, is accurate, although if he genuinely had the scaled up strength of a spider the train used in this study would have still crushed him or ripped him apart, take your pick," Forster told redOrbit.