The Real-Life Science Behind Spider-Man's Webs, and How It Could Change the Way We Live

The Real-Life Science Behind Spider-Man's Webs, and How It Could Change the Way We Live

Feb 15, 2012

Spider-Man Webs

We all know that Peter Parker got his spider-iffic superpowers after being chomped on by a radioactive arachnid during a high school field trip – that’s just common geek knowledge at this point. What few people seem to really understand is how does Spider-Man's homemade web concoction not only support the weight of a grown human-arachnid hybrid while he swings across New York City, but tie down burly vanquished criminals. For the answer to that, look no further than real science.

A cool article about how spider webs are constructed recently appeared in The Daily Mail – and after reading it, we think we’ve come away with a newfound understanding of how Parker’s custom-designed web concoction actually works.

As it turns out, scientists have made some interesting discoveries about spider webs – spider silk is not only five times as strong as the same weight of steel, but spiders also engineer their webs in a way that keeps them intact and can make them stronger when a strand breaks.

These discoveries are being cited as potential tools in designing safer buildings for humans – and already make for a nifty containment unit for bad guys if the comics are to be believed.

Since a web utilizes a huge amount of the spider’s energy, they’re designed to withstand high levels of punishment and require only minor repairs. This keeps the spider from constantly having to rebuild the web after every stray breeze or a captured bit of prey struggles to escape. This also means that your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler can take a breather after battling it out with villains like Venom. 

Researchers discovered that the spider silk, which comes in two distinct varieties, hardens or softens depending on conditions. When snapped, these threads don’t compromise the structural integrity of the web, allowing the spider to perform minimal repairs. Even more amazing is that when up to 10% of a web area's strands were removed, the web itself actually becomes stronger.

Given that Peter Parker was a science nerd of the first order, we’re assuming he had already figured out what researchers are citing in this new research paper, but now you can use the powers of science to teach your friends why a 165-pound man swinging around on a few strands of silk is totally plausible. Hurray for science!

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