“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: ‘With great mass, comes the need for great adhesive surface area.'”
Everybody knows that Peter Parker is endowed with a range of super-human abilities post radioactive-spider bite. He possesses super strength, super agility, accelerated healing, web-shooting powers, and of course, spidey senses. His ability to stick to walls and ceilings however, thanks to a new study on “animal adhesive pads and the size limits of adhesion-based climbing” has come under scrutiny as a real-world application.
Now our science senses are tingling…
The study, performed by zoologist David Labonte of the University of Cambridge and several colleagues, took a look at over 225 animals with “adhesive pads” (skin with billions of tiny hairs small enough to take advantage of inter-molecular Van der Waals forces), and documented the correlation between body volume, mass, surface area, and surface area of adhesive pads. Labonte found that for gecko-style adhesion, Spider-Man would need to have sticky surface area 200 times that of the little lizards, or “approximately 2/5 of the total available body surface,” the study concludes.
In other words, in order for Spider-Man to stick to walls like he does in the comics and films, 40% of his body’s surface area would need to be adhesive pad. Or, if he wanted to keep the adhesive pads exclusively on his feet and and fingertips, he’d need to have… wait for it… size 114 feet.
And you thought Andrew Garfield had big shoes to fill!
According to the study, geckos are the the créme de la créme of straight-and-smooth-wall climbers because critters any more massive than they are would require evolutionarily prohibitive adhesive pad surface area.
And, as organisms grow in mass, their surface area doesn’t grow proportionally. Humans, with a relatively high mass-to-surface area ratio, are far from optimal wall climbers.s
The study does note that some animals, like the tree frog, have developed an alternative strategy for combating their size when climbing vertical surfaces: stickier pads. Theoretically, instead of supersizing Spidey’s feet and/or hands, his appendages could just be made extraordinarily sticky. But Peter Parker is a high school-aged boy after all, so there may be a few reasons why this wouldn’t be such a great idea.
What do you think about Spider-Man’s lack of adhesive surface area? Is it time to address this real-world flaw, or is it satisfactory to explain his climbing abilities with a simple “because comic books”? Let us know in the comments section below!
Feature Image: Marvel/Sony Pictures
Images: University of Cambridge