In what may amount to a pyrrhic victory for opponents of the dreaded organic web-shooters, a scientist has determined Spider-Man probably can’t do everything a spider can.
In a special movie-focused issue of The Biochemist magazine, Prof. Fritz Vollrath of the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology questions how the wall-crawler can so quickly manufacture such high quantities of silk capable of not only supporting his own weight, but even stopping a runaway train.
“In-depth analysis of an extensive online database of video imagery, as well as background visual literature (commonly called comic strips), confirms that Spider-Man seems to shoot filaments from the wrist,” writes Vollrath, whose research team specializes int he properties of spider silk. “This immediately raises a number of questions. Firstly, where are the silk glands situated?” I don’t think we want to travel too far down that path.
Now, comics fans will point out that Peter Parker more commonly uses mechanical web-shooters — something the professor doesn’t really address — but even that might not explain away issues with the strength of the thread, or its safety.
“It is important to note that Spider-Man, like spiders, has bilateral symmetry – and, in consequence, the ability to produce a double thread,” Vollrath says. “However, unlike spiders, which always produce a double thread (each with the ability to singly hold the animal’s weight, as an extra safety feature), Spider-Man more often than not shoots only from one wrist. This behaviour, to me, appears to be highly cavalier.”
Spider-Man’s signature swinging from building to building causes its own problems, with Vollrath noting it would produce enough G-force to effectively double or triple the hero’s body weight (let’s not even think about anything he may be carrying). Therefore, the professor states, his silk would need to be “less gossamer and more cable.”
Vollrath states that the wall-crawler requires more research, but acknowledges, “I don’t think my group will attempt to secure the funding to collect a Spider-Man specimen for study. Instead, we will have to continue to rely for our research on second and third-hand reports and films – which may, of course, have been doctored.”
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