Fun Research Determines that Spider-Man’s Webbing Could Actually Stop a Train

File this under cool stuff that you wish you’d done while in college.  Alex Stone and a group of fellow students at the United Kingdom’s University of Leicester, decided to use a class project to determine if the antics in the spuerhero film were at all possible, saying:

“It is often quoted that spiderwebs are stronger than steel, so we thought it would be interesting to see whether this held true for Spider-Man’s scaled-up version…Considering the subject matter we were surprised to find out that the webbing was portrayed accurately.”

Spider-Man-2-train-webs

It’s kind of neat to see how they came up with this, but also a bit technical.  Live Science got the details on it, and since this is far beyond my understand of physics, I’ll just quote them:

Stone and his fellow students calculated that the force needed to stop four New York City subway cars packed with nearly 1,000 people total would be 300,000 newtons, after taking into account 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 subway car.

The students then considered the strength of the webs — estimating the toughness of Spider-Man’s silk would need to be almost 500 megajoules per cubic meter — and found it to be comparable with silk from a Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini), an orb-weaver that spins the toughest silk known to science, 10 times stronger than Kevlar.

The group said they also calculated the stiffness of Spider-Man’s web to be 3.12 gigapascals, which is reasonable, and even on the low-end of real spider silk stiffness that ranges from 1.5 gigapascals to 12 gigapascals in the orb-weavers.

“Having determined these parameters, it can be stated that Spider-Man’s webbing is a proportional equivalent of that of a real spider, namely a weaker orb-weaver spider, but curiously, with a toughness more akin to some of the strongest spider silks,” the students wrote in a paper in University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics.

So why did they study this?  Well, seeing as how they’re students the papers they wrote were designed as an exercise to get them acquainted with the peer review process.  Either way, I think it’s kind of neat to see how real world things can explin seemingly far-fetched ideas (even though I seriously doubt the filmmakers thought it through to that degree). 

-Jordan