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Bam! Science Inspired by Superheroes

By Eric Roston - 2013-12-17T14:48:54Z

Photograph by Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

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Spider-Man's Web

In the latest movie version, Peter Parker creates a synthetic polymer that’s as strong as real spider thread.

Scientists are just beginning to account for why spider thread is so strong -- stronger than an equal weight of steel. The strength might come from its tendency to shift between stiff and stretchy states. Individual fibers change back and forth depending on the amount and kind of force applied to them. 

While industry would have great use for a synthetic ‘smart thread,’ there are likelier lessons here from the network effects in a spider web. Individual strands in a spider web absorb outside forces -- wind, flies, leaves -- without transmitting their stress throughout the rest of the structure. Understanding that property could be useful for civil engineers, immunologists and protectors of the biggest web of all -- the worldwide one. 

Left, The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012.