Why Spiderman Can’t Exist

Anyone seen the Amazing Spiderman? Pretty awesome, right? I mean, who wouldn’t love to swing around on webs and stick to walls?! Well, ScienceDaily has released an article about just that. Why Spiderman Can’t Exist is a rather disappointing but informative article looking into one of Marvel’s most loved superheroes. According to this article, “geckos are the largest animals able to scale smooth vertical walls.” This means, of course, that humans are obviously ruled out of the equation, given our rather larger size in comparison to geckos. However, Geico’s gecko will have no problem scaling walls like a pro. The web thing may come later though….But why can’t humans scale walls? Well, because “scientists estimate that a human would need adhesive pads covering 40% of their body surface in order to walk up a wall like Spiderman.” This rules out the whole ‘sticky fingers’ thing. The study, which was published in PNAS, shows that “the percentage of body surface covered by adhesive footpads increases as body size increases.” So, in essence, the bigger the animal, the more adhesive footpads would be required. Aside from needing really big feet (think US size 114), size is also an issue in a different way. When they are “bigger and heavier, they need more sticking power to be able to adhere to vertical or inverted surfaces, but they have comparatively less body surface available to cover with sticky footpads.” So: bigger the animal, harder it is to stick and climb. Scientists have figured out that this means that “there is a size limit to sticky footpads as an evolutionary solution to climbing — and that turns out to be about the size of a gecko.” So far, the only solution scientists have found to combat the size and weight issue is “to make your sticky footpads even stickier.” While this is good news for some, it might be awhile before humans are able to engineer such a feet. But, all the research on different species and their sticky pads has given scientists insight into “developing large-scale bio-inspired adhesives, which are currently only effective on very small areas.” Perhaps one day, seeing someone scale a building without rope won’t just be amazing, it will be perfectly normal. Though, to be fair, I have to wonder what it would mean for crime rates. I suppose that Spiderman’s manta works here perfectly: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

 

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