If Spider-Man's web is anything like spider silk, it's surprisingly realistic


  • Peter Parker could have made his Spider-Man webbing out of practically any material but went with spider silk. It may seem silly, but it was a smart choice. 
  • Natural spider silk is, pound for pound, stronger than steel.
  • And Peter may have improved upon it with his own concoction, using what looks to be carbon nanotubes to add extra strength and flexibility to the webbing.
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When Spider-man made his own webbing in his high school chemistry class, he was smart to try to mimic spider silk. After all, the real stuff is pound for pound, stronger than steel. He also seems to have improved upon it, using what looks to be carbon nanotubes to provide even more strength and flexibility, just like scientists are investigating in real labs today.

Following is the transcript of the video.

In the recent films starring Tom Holland, Peter Parker cooks up his own webbing in his high-school chemistry class. Now, he could have made it out of anything — like fishing line or even steel. And yet he chooses to replicate spider silk. SPIDER SILK! This kid is trusting his life to a flimsy-looking strand of arachnid goo! 

But it turns out if Peter’s web is anything like real spider silk, then his web-slinging antics are more realistic than they might appear. 

Now, spider silk doesn’t look very durable. After all, a strand can be as little as 1/40th the thickness of a human hair. But pound for pound, it’s stronger than steel! So if you twisted spider silk into a thread that was 2 millimeters wide — as thick as a strand of spaghetti — it could support 900 pounds before breaking! Strong enough for a polar bear to hang from — so a scrawny kid like spiderman? He’s got this.

Jim Kakalios: “And that’s just a 2-millimeter webbing. If he needs more, he just makes it a little bit thicker and he can support even more weight.”

That’s physicist Jim Kakalios, the author of “The Physics of Superheroes.” He says that the secret to spider silk’s strength is its structure.  Real spider silk has two major components: Extremely rigid nanocrystals that make the silk sturdy and stretchy elastic polymers that make it pliable. That combination of tough and flexible makes the silk extremely hard to tear.

And if you look at Peter’s lab notes It looks like he tries to mimic that same structure. 

Jim Kakalios: “It looks like a set of organic molecules that he’s using, and he’s trying to combine them in ways…to basically take these complex molecules and link them together in longer chains that would presumably fold down and develop into these nanocrystals and elastic polymers.”

But Peter may have gone one step further and actually made one improvement to his synthetic silk. 

Jim Kakalios: “I think that instead of these little nanocrystals that are the proteins spiders use, he might be using carbon nanotubes to provide the strength and rigidity.”

Carbon nanotubes are basically a sheet of carbon atoms that’s been rolled up into a tube. And if Jim is right, Peter is one smart high-school student. Because these tiny tubes are actually some of the strongest material known to humans. In fact, they’re over 100 times as strong as steel! And that’s when they’re microscopicSo a spaghetti-thin strand of this stuff, like what we see in “Spiderman”? It could support far more than just 900 pounds. 

Jim Kakalios: “That would be able to support over 40,000 pounds!”

Suddenly, that ferry scene doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Especially since we have the technology to make those nanotubes in real life. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati, for example, have figured out how to grow carbon nanotubes in a lab…and then spool them into threads. Sadly, those threads aren’t meant for skyscraper-swinging antics. The researchers’ goal is a tad more practical. 

Jim Kakalios: “If you could manufacture it and make threads out of carbon nanotubes, you can make lightweight clothing that would be stronger than Kevlar.”  

So when you really think about it the most unrealistic thing about Peter Parker’s homemade webbing, is that a high-schooler figured out how to make it in his chem class. 

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