Thanos’ Snap Inspires Study of Humans’ Wild Snapping Abilities

We Homo sapiens take our ability to snap for granted. So much so that anything we think of as easy is a snap to do. But a new study from a team of researchers and students published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface explores the incredible physics of the snap. And their findings about the science of a snap may make you rethink the gesture. As well as whether or not Thanos could’ve actually snapped while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet.

Raghav Acharya, an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, led the team of researchers. Both Thanos’ infamous Snap and the first-ever depiction of a snap in art, from ancient Greece circa 300 B.C., inspired Acharya and his colleagues. Acharya worked on this study with doctoral student Elio Challita, Assistant Professor Saad Bhamla, also at Georgia Tech, and Assistant Professor Mark Ilton of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California.

“For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with how we can snap our fingers,” Bhamla said in a press release. “It’s really an extraordinary physics puzzle right at our fingertips that hasn’t been investigated closely.”

Previously Bhalma and his colleagues had developed a general framework to explain “ultrafast motions” in living organisms. They subsequently thought about applying the framework to the physics of snapping. Apparently, the researchers felt especially compelled to perform the study after watching Avengers: Infinity War from 2018.

Thanos from Marvel's The Avengers about to snap his fingers in a way that demonstrates the intriguing physiological movement. What does snap science tell us about the motion?
Marvel Studios

As for the snapping physics, it’s apparently all about friction. Using high-speed imaging, the team explored the role of friction in the snap. They covered thumbs with different materials including metallic thimbles to mimic snapping with a metallic gauntlet like Thanos’.

For an ordinary snap with bare fingers, the researchers measured a maximal rotational velocity of 7,800 degrees per second and a rotational acceleration of 1.6 million degrees per second. For reference, that’s a rotational velocity nearing that of a pitcher’s arm. And a rotational acceleration three times that of a pitcher’s arm. In all, the researchers found a snap lasts only seven milliseconds. Which means it happens 20 times faster than the blink of an eye. What science has to tell us about the snap feels truly wild.

Perhaps most importantly, the researchers found that snapping with the Infinity Gauntlet isn’t really possible. Or at least wouldn’t be possible IRL. Metal, unlike our precious skin, has no give. And, consequently, the diminished contact area leads to far less friction, and much less of a snap. Although to be fair, uru, the metal ore from the first moon in existence and primary Infinity Gauntlet material, may have special properties.

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