Spider-Man’s web could be effective in real life

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SPIDER-MAN’S webbing really could stop a train if it recreated what exists in nature, research has shown.

In 2004 film Spider-Man 2, the superhero shoots strands of the material at surrounding buildings to prevent a runaway train plummeting to disaster.

The scene seems far-fetched, even by Hollywood standards – but it’s not, according to a group of young British scientists investigating the amazing properties of spider’s silk. They calculated that, scaled up to Spider-Man’s human proportions, spider silk would be strong enough to halt a four-car New York subway train travelling at full speed.

Leicester University physics students calculated the force needed to overcome the train’s momentum: a huge 300,000 newtons. To avoid breaking, each cubic metre of web would have to soak up almost 500 million joules of energy.

But one spider spins silk that is up to the job. The Darwin’s bark spider, from Madagascar, creates orb-shaped webs tougher than any other known – they are more than ten times stronger than Kevlar.

One of the three scientists, Alex Stone, 21, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, said: “It is often quoted that spider webs 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.”

The research is published in the latest issue of the University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics.

Course leader Dr Mervyn Roy said: “A lot of the papers published in the journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical or a bit off-the-wall. But, to be a research physicist, you need to show some imagination.”