Superhero comic books and movies are often more than just good entertainment. They can act as a positive form of escapism for children and adults who struggle with their own surroundings and feelings disempowerment. The mythology of superheroes is rooted in our own awkward human development, especially feelings of loss, loneliness, and lack of control, and the ways we overcome our problems to emerge stronger and more self-aware. And to be honest, who hasn’t at times wished they had the super strength of Wonder Woman, the super-healing powers and snarky wit of Deadpool, or the Adamantium claws and devil-may-care attitude of Wolverine.
Apparently, Stephen Colbert felt the exact same way. Recently, scientists at Cambridge University in England released a study claiming human beings would require “impractically large sticky feet and…shoes in a US size 114.” The study effectively debunked Spider-Man, which the late night host dubbed “a PhD thesis on destroying my childhood.” Fortunately for us and Colbert, scientists at Stanford University in California didn’t quite agree with the study.
After reading the report and, of course, watching Colbert’s diatribe, several engineers at Stanford endeavored to re-empower the unglued superhero. They released their own video (below, via Comic Book) giving Marvel’s human spider back some of his credibility. In the video, they refute Cambridge’s claim by suggesting if humans “don’t just copy the gecko, but instead you’re clever about how you distribute your weight, you can use a device like this [microfiber pad], and a human can climb a glass wall.”
The video continues to show Stanford mechanical engineer Elliot Hawkes using the “Gecko Glove” to scale a replica building wall. Originally developed in 2014, the glove or pad consists of 24 sticky tiles “covered with sawtooth-shape polymer structures… about the width of a human hair.” The technology’s stems from Stanford's 2006 project, StickyBot, a robot built to emulate a gecko’s climbing abilities. The project could conceivable be used to create robots who can manufacture and lift large LCD displays and could even be used in space to safely dispose of large debris.
Stanford’s rebuttal comes as good news to fans of Spider-Man and comic books everywhere. Although current theories about physics and the natural laws of the universe stand in the way of a number of superhero powers (the jury’s still out on heat vision and invisibility), science has been able to lend more credence to some of our favorite fantastical concepts. We now know that Spider-Man’s wall climbing ability, if cumbersome, is possible. Spider silk also inspired scientists to construct super-strong microfiber nanotubes which in future will be capable of carrying massive loads and reinforcing clothing and bullet proof vests.
And giving credibility to Spider-Man’s powers, at least the non-radioactive spider bite-related ones, isn’t the only benefit of these studies. Our friendly neighborhood wall crawler has inspired technology which can keep us safe as our buildings and tasks reach new heights, protect us from dangerous situations in super-strong body armor, and even help us reach for the stars. Now, where’s my Adamantium skeleton, science?
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange– November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018;Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.