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

– Today’s episode is
sponsored by Puzzle Quest. (web shooting and grunting) Spider-Man has a problem. He’s supposed to be
able to do anything that a spider can and, yet, he
covers it all up with a suit. If a radioactive spider bit
you and gave you spider powers, why would you make a suit that covered up all of your spider hairs? You know, the thing
that lets you ‘spider’? I think there is a way around the suit’s stickiness problem and it’s with science. Duh. (light techno music) Uncle Carben. Here is the scene I’m talking about from the first Spider-Man film. In it Peter Parker grows tiny
barbed 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 they
are 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 nanometers
thick and the real reason why spiders can stick to stuff. And maybe how the Powerpuff
Girls’ hands work. Oh, gross! Let’s take a closer
look 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 close
to another set of atoms, like the atoms that make
up a wall, for example, there can be a weak electrical attraction. Because the electrons
that orbit the nucleii of atoms aren’t really like particles, they’re more like clouds of charge, if you bring two atoms
close enough together there is a chance those
charges, as they whiz around, will end up attracting each other, even though the atoms
themselves 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 explain
Spider-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 the
flux 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 thing
could stick to a wall and does it solve the suit problem? If Spider-Man tried to climb
walls 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 of
different species to determine whether or not humans could
ever climb like spiders. It looked at 225 different species with Van der Waals
forces-enabled foot pads and concluded that across a
wide range of surface areas they were directly
proportional to the mass of that animal, from geckos to mites. The authors of this study
then extrapolated it to the body mass of humans
and, 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 your
entire 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 we
ever see Spider-Man use. It’d be like if your whole chest was just one big spider foot and
you 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 Snail
Girl, or Snail Boy. But all this doesn’t necessarily mean that Peter Parker can’t climb stuff. Another way to interpret
this study is that nature is focusing on surface area
and not actual stickiness of the Van der Waals pads
across 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’t
really speak to that, we’d have to invent some new biology. But, we still have the suit problem. Because Van der Waals
forces 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 any
material 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 get
around 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 Georgia
Institute of Technology have created a material
out 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 is
basically the best at this. Time to do the math. If Peter Parker is 76 kilograms
and is under Earth’s gravity and the new material made
out 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 a
half square centimeters, in total, to stickiness. But is this enough? When Spider-Man is climbing
it looks like he’s only using his fingertips and,
presumably, his toe tips. So is there enough surface area across all of your fingers and
toes 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 is
nine times more surface area than you need to stick
to a wall like Spider-Man if you’re using this
carbon nanotube material. That means you could definitely climb like Spider-Man if your suit was using this material on just
fingertips and toe tips. In fact, you could climb a wall just like Spider-Man and hold your whole body weight on a
wall 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 climb
walls if he’s wearing a suit? Well, Peter Parker is a science whiz, he would know that the
nanoscale interactions that allow him to climb
a wall with his bare skin would be negated if a suit came in between a wall and his skin. So, what I think he is
doing is augmenting his suit with science just like how
he did with the web shooters. He has created a material
that goes on the outside of the suit that gives it
the 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 me
on Twitter @Sci_Phile where you can suggest
ideas for future episodes. And on Facebook and Instagram where I’m now posting mini-episodes, Amy. And if you want more silliness
check out one of my shows with my colleague, Dan Casey,
it’s very, it’s very weird. It’s called Muskwatch, that’s
all you need to know about it. And if you want something a
little bit more, ooh, premium, check out my new show on called the S.P.A.A.C.E Program. It’s like Cosmos had a
weird, long-haired baby with Mystery Science Theater 3000. Thanks. Special thanks to Marvel Puzzle Quest for sponsoring today’s episode. If you like Marvel and Match 3 Games check out Marvel Puzzle Quest, and homecoming is the perfect
time to start playing. No, I’m not talking about teens, I’m talking about Spider-Man Homecoming. An all-new five star Spider-Man
has been added to the game in celebration of the web
slinger’s upcoming film. Recruit Spidey and play
two all-new boss missions featuring the Sinister Six. Grab it on the Apple App
Store or Google play now. Thanks, Puzzle Quest. It’s not just about how
Spider-Man sticks to stuff, it’s also, if you’re
climbing, you think about it, it’s also how you unstick from stuff. Using that material that
we just went through he’d be able to do three points of
contact and climb just fine. He could hold onto the wall
with 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 sticky
and 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)


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