Ever since the introduction of Spider-Man as a character in 1962, teenagers the world over have dreamed of the possibility of becoming a superhero. I can’t be the only one who has had dreams of flying through the city with web shooters and climbing up walls. We all agree that would be awesome, right? Unfortunately, stupid science has decided to get in the way and make sure we all know how impossible it would actually be.
To be clear, nobody has done any research we’re aware of on the effects of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead, a new study in the Journal of Crushing Childhood Dreams, (or, actually, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has determined that even if you were given spider powers via an arachnid attempting to eat you, human bodies are simply too damn big to be able to climb walls like spiders do. According to one of the scientists in charge of the study, as quoted by Comic Book Resources:
We’d need about 40 percent of our total body surface, or roughly 80 percent of our front, to be covered in sticky footpads if we wanted to do a convincing Spider-Man impression.
In order for a human being to have the proportions necessary for actual wall crawling they would need to have either much smaller bodies or extremely large hands and feet. How large? Our hands would need to be 43 inches across. Add to that the need for a size 114 shoe in order to have feet large enough, and, needless to say, Peter Parker isn’t getting any real-life competition anytime soon. Instead, it seems that Spider-Man simply has really sticky hands, like he’s gotten gum stuck on his fingers. He might be better than the average football player; he’s not going to fumble the ball nearly as much, but climbing walls is right out.
According to the study, titled "Extreme positive allometry of animal adhesive pads and the size limits of adhesion-based climbing," (because you wouldn’t get much funding for "An investigation into doing whatever a spider can") the largest animal that’s actually able to scale walls is the gecko. Significantly larger than spiders, but a great deal smaller than people.
There is, of course, a solution to this problem. In addition to being bitten by a radioactive spider, we just also need to discover Pym particles, so then we can shrink ourselves to a size small enough to have the correct proportions for wall climbing. It’s all the same universe. Where’s our body shrinking study?
While science has gotten us into this mess, we expect science can also get us out. It appears that the human body is not naturally adapted to wall crawling, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be done through entirely artificial means. Last year an engineering team at Stanford created gloves that allowed them to do some basic wall-crawling. This is the kind of science we can get behind. Don’t go ruining our dreams. Make them happen.