It feels like superheroes are everywhere nowadays: in our comics, in our cartoons, on television shows, in books, and in movies. I love superheroes; I find them fun and fascinating.  One of my favorite things to do when it comes to superheroes is to look at their powers, and think about the science behind them–not whether or not having those abilities is scientific, but do their powers make sense based on science, and could there be more to their abilities.

For example, there is a certain web-slinging hero based in New York City that was bitten by an enhanced spider and then gained arachnid-based powers.  One thing that is said often about this hero is that he has the proportionate strength of a spider.  This means that if a spider can lift X amount of times its weight, then this hero can also lift X amount of times his weight.  Let’s examine this ability more closely.  

First, we need to know how much this hero weighs. The average weight for a man in the United States is around 190 lbs. Now we need to figure out how much weight this web slinger can lift. This can be a bit hard to figure out, since the amount can change depending on who is writing for him, but according to a database I found comparing the strength of heroes in his universe he can lift 25 tons (he was capable of lifting more, but again, inconsistent writing abounds). 1 ton is equal to 2000 lbs, so he can lift 50,000 lbs, which is about 263 times his body weight! 

Now we need to determine how much a spider can lift, which as you might guess, depends entirely on the type of spider.  Keep in mind spiders don’t really “lift” objects either, so we’ll just use physical strength.  According to the research I found, it can be anywhere from 2-8 times their own body weight–which is a lot less than our arachnid-enhanced hero can. So while he might have the proportionate strength of some sort of arthropod (the group of animals that spiders and insects belong to), it’s not a spider.

However, there is another power that he received from that fateful spider bite that spiders do have. Our friendly neighborhood arachnid hero is capable of sticking to walls, ceilings, and glass. In his first live-action movie, it is shown that he can do this because he develops tiny hairs on his skin that allow him to stick to surfaces. Turns out, spiders have tufts of fine bristles between their paired claws at the tips of their legs. These bristles, called scopulae, are what allow spiders to walk up vertical surfaces and allow some spiders the ability to stay on the ceiling.

This is just an example of what I like to look at when it comes to superheroes (and their villains). Is there a hero (or villain) whose powers you are interested in looking at closer?  Let us know and we will analyze them!

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thumb_The Science of Superpowers