How Can Spider-Man Climb While Wearing a Suit? (Because Science w/ Kyle Hill)

– Today's episode issponsored by Puzzle Quest.

(web shooting and grunting) Spider-Man has a problem.

He's supposed to beable to do anything that a spider can and, yet, hecovers it all up with a suit.

If a radioactive spider bityou and gave you spider powers, why would you make a suit that covered up all of your spider hairs? You know, the thingthat lets you 'spider'? I think there is a way around the suit's stickiness problem and it's with science.


(light techno music) Uncle Carben.

Here is the scene I'm talking about from the first Spider-Man film.

In it Peter Parker grows tinybarbed hairs on his hands, and presumably, his feet, and it's implied that it's those hairs that allow him to scale surfaces like a spider can.

But, if that's the case, wouldn't putting a full bodysuit over all of your skin negate the effect that that hair produces? Yes, yes it would.

But before we figure that out, how do spiders climb stuff? Here is a tiny, poorly drawn spider.

Now, enhance.

(light clicking) Those little hairs on its feet that you can see with your own eyes what are on Tobey Maguire's hands are called setae and theyare just micrometers thick.

They are very, very small, but that's not why spiders stick to stuff.

Now, enhance again.

(light clicking) At the end of every one of those setae are hundreds of spatulae.

They are just nanometersthick and the real reason why spiders can stick to stuff.

And maybe how the PowerpuffGirls' hands work.

Oh, gross! Let's take a closerlook at those spatulae.

These spatulae are so small, in fact, they are on the scale of individual atoms.

And because they are so small, if you brought them closeto another set of atoms, like the atoms that makeup a wall, for example, there can be a weak electrical attraction.

Because the electronsthat orbit the nucleii of atoms aren't really like particles, they're more like clouds of charge, if you bring two atomsclose enough together there is a chance thosecharges, as they whiz around, will end up attracting each other, even though the atomsthemselves may be neutral.

This is a weak force, but it's still something and it's called the Van der Waals Force.

Van der Waals forces are where most people trying to explainSpider-Man's stickiness stop.

(web shooting) If you add up all the tiny interactions at the atomic level over the millions of spatulae that spider's have, that explains how they stick to walls.

Even the Marvel Handbook, the official one, says something like this.

Spider-Man enhances theflux of interatomic forces on the surfaces that he touches, increasing the coefficient of friction between that surface and himself.

The first part is, essentially, Van der Waals forces and the second part is wrong, but we'll let that go for now.

But we can go further.

Do Van der Waals forces explain how a human-sized thingcould stick to a wall and does it solve the suit problem? If Spider-Man tried to climbwalls with actual spider hair, (squishing) it wouldn't work.

You may have heard of this study that came out a couple of years ago.

It looked at a number ofdifferent species to determine whether or not humans couldever climb like spiders.

It looked at 225 different species with Van der Waalsforces-enabled foot pads and concluded that across awide range of surface areas they were directlyproportional to the mass of that animal, from geckos to mites.

The authors of this studythen extrapolated it to the body mass of humansand, as you can see, the surface area would have to go way up.

The authors concluded that you would need to devote a full 40% of yourentire body's surface area to sticky Van der Waals pads in order to cling to a wall like Spider-Man.

This is far more than weever see Spider-Man use.

It'd be like if your whole chest was just one big spider foot andyou had to put your chest against a wall and kind of, like, shimmy around if you wanted to climb.

And then you'd kind of look like a, like Slug Man, and no one wants to be Slug Man, or SnailGirl, or Snail Boy.

But all this doesn't necessarily mean that Peter Parker can't climb stuff.

Another way to interpretthis study is that nature is focusing on surface areaand not actual stickiness of the Van der Waals padsacross a range of body sizes.

So, what if Peter Parker, instead of having a lot of surface area, had abnormally sticky Van der Waals pads? That's fine, it would get around that problem and we can'treally speak to that, we'd have to invent some new biology.

But, we still have the suit problem.

Because Van der Waalsforces work on the scale of nanometers, any suit, even if it's very thin, would interfere with that interaction.

And so, Spider-Man's suit needs to be made out of material that is just as sticky as his abnormally sticky hands and feet.

Do we know of anymaterial that can do that? If Spider-Man augmented his suit, just like he did with his web shooters, with science that we already have, he would be able to getaround the suit problem and climb just like a spider does.

Looking to the stickiness of gecko feet, university researchers at Dayton, Akron, the Air Force and the GeorgiaInstitute of Technology have created a materialout of carbon nanotubes.

A material so thin and so fine it has a Van der Waals interaction 10 times that of a gecko's foot.

And remember, the gecko isbasically the best at this.

Time to do the math.

If Peter Parker is 76 kilogramsand is under Earth's gravity and the new material madeout of carbon nanotubes can support a hundred newtons of weight for every square centimeter, then Spider-Man's suit would only need to devote seven and ahalf square centimeters, in total, to stickiness.

But is this enough? When Spider-Man is climbingit looks like he's only using his fingertips and, presumably, his toe tips.

So is there enough surface area across all of your fingers andtoes to hold you up? Well, given that each one of my fingertips is around three square centimeters, and I have 20 of those, I get nine.

Which means that there isnine times more surface area than you need to stickto a wall like Spider-Man if you're using thiscarbon nanotube material.

That means you could definitely climb like Spider-Man if your suit was using this material on justfingertips and toe tips.

In fact, you could climb a wall just like Spider-Man and hold your whole body weight on awall using just three.



(squirting) Oh, oh! Three fingers.

And also, Spider-Man's skin would need to be this sticky to work.

Eww, ugh, ehhhh, ehhhh! So how does Spider-Man climbwalls if he's wearing a suit? Well, Peter Parker is a science whiz, he would know that thenanoscale interactions that allow him to climba wall with his bare skin would be negated if a suit came in between a wall and his skin.

So, what I think he isdoing is augmenting his suit with science just like howhe did with the web shooters.

He has created a materialthat goes on the outside of the suit that gives itthe adequate stickiness to give him super spider powers.

Spider-Man can do anything a spider can.

And so his suit has to, too.

It just needs a little help.

Because science.

(webs shooting) (light techno music) Thank you so much for watching.

Make sure to follow meon Twitter @Sci_Phile where you can suggestideas for future episodes.

And on Facebook and Instagram where I'm now posting mini-episodes, Amy.

And if you want more sillinesscheck out one of my shows with my colleague, Dan Casey, it's very, it's very weird.

It's called Muskwatch, that'sall you need to know about it.

And if you want something alittle bit more, ooh, premium, check out my new show on ProjectAlpha.

com called the S.





E Program.

It's like Cosmos had aweird, long-haired baby with Mystery Science Theater 3000.


Special thanks to Marvel Puzzle Quest for sponsoring today's episode.

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Thanks, Puzzle Quest.

It's not just about howSpider-Man sticks to stuff, it's also, if you'reclimbing, you think about it, it's also how you unstick from stuff.

Using that material thatwe just went through he'd be able to do three points ofcontact and climb just fine.

He could hold onto the wallwith just three fingers.

But how do you stick and then unstick? Well, the cool thing is the orientation of this material matters.

If it's at one angle it's stickyand it will stay on a wall.

If it is at another angle, it will just detach, that's how gecko feet work.

I mean, just using, (squirts) oh! Gotta stop.

Gotta stop doing that.

(techno jingle).