Geeks like to argue about things. After seeing Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, my friend and I got into a heated argument over whether or not the big train-stopping scene was possible. Would the webs hold up? Is Spidey’s grip strong enough to hold the webs? Would his arms get ripped off? What about all the things he’s shooting webs onto, would they hold up? Rather than argue over Chinese food like we did, some students at the University of Leicester actually used physics to settle the debate once and for all, and they published their results.
According to James Forster, Mark Bryan, and Alex Stone the numbers add up, and Spider-Man would have been able to stop the train. Their argument was a little more detailed than mine, which consisted of me repeatedly falling back on “Yeah, but he’s Spider-Man, so it would probably work.”
To start, they had to calculate the total force it would take to stop the moving train, which they did by determining the train’s momentum and the time it took to stop the train from when Spider-Man attaches the first web. They calculated the train’s momentum assuming its four cars were traveling at full speed and at full capacity. The students determined the force of the webs to stop the train was 300,000 newtons.
The stiffness of the webs during the train stop would be 3.13 gigapascals, which is well within the capabilities of webs seen in orb-weaving spiders, which can range from 1.5 to 12 gigapascals. What also correlates to real world spiders is the toughness of Spider-Man’s webs, which would have to be 500 megajoules per cubic meter. The strongest known real world spider webs come from the Darwin Bark Spider, and those webs can handle that level of toughness.
It seems like the math adds up to show that Spidey’s webs are indeed strong enough to stop that train. The paper, titled Doing whatever a spider can, does not address the issue of Spider-Man himself being strong enough to hold on to the webs, or whether there were enough points of contact to disperse the force evenly enough to not tear down the buildings, but come on — he’s Spider-Man, so it would probably work.
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