You'll Never Be Spider-Man, Science Says


Science tells us a lot of things, in many cases things we didn't even know we needed to know. Without science, we'd be ignorant to the brain functions of dead salmon, the complex physical properties of the human ponytail and the most and least painful areas of the human body to be stung by a bee

Now, a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has officially determined that, no, you cannot be Spider-Man.

A team of researchers from four universities concluded that as animals grow, they require more and more adhesive padding on their bodies to climb surfaces the way an insect or a frog does, and that for a human to successfully ascend a smooth vertical would require 40% of the person's surface area covered in adhesive material like that which pads gecko feet.

Here's the visual:

David Labonte

"As climbing animals get larger and larger, it gets increasingly difficult to stick," one of the study's authors and a professor at Cambridge University's department of zoology, David Labonte, told Mic. "Animals use two different strategies to solve this problem: They make their pads bigger, and they make their pads stickier."

Geckos are currently the largest animals with adhesive limbs agile enough to walk up walls; the team observed that in many larger animals, pads got stickier, but that the increased stickiness topped out beyond animals larger than the lizard.

Indeed, the hope of Labonte and others was not a play for the Ig Nobel Prizes, but rather serious research into how animal adhesives could be applied to synthetic ones. 

"We wanted to figure out why geckos are the largest animals that climb with adhesive pads," Labonte said. "[We're] hoping to identify strategies that would allow us to improve man-made adhesives, so that they can work over large areas."


So why couldn't humans just have a small area of really, really, really, sticky adhesive padding? It's not out of the question, but according to Labonte, the challenges would outweigh the practical benefits. "Stickiness comes at a price," he said. "You won't be as agile as a gecko, but rather slow and clumsy."

So in conclusion: Spider-Man. No. And if you're thinking of subjecting yourself to cosmic radiation in an attempt to develop other supernatural powers — well, that's probably a bad idea, too.