Nerd Labs: Issue #3 - How Strong is Spider-Man's Web?

Hello True Believers!

Spider-Man has been the face of Marvel for almost half a century. With six live action movies, countless television shows, and one of the highest number of comic book appearences in the business, there aren't too many people out there that didn't dream of sticking to walls and swinging from webs on the way to school as kids. But just how well would those webs work in real life?

In this edition of Comic Labs, I am going to examine the physics behind Spider-Man's webs, and try to find just how strong they really are.

Ground Rules

For the ease of my research, I will be using the standard web we all know and love. Spidey has more types of web than Wasp does costumes, and most of those don't have a whole lot of information out there on them. Yes, I am aware that some versions of his web, including his most recent one, are supposed to be stronger than his normal web, but I figure this gives us a good baseline.

Also, because I am still recovering from the amount I had to watchIron Man 3 for the last issue, I will be entirely basing this in the world of comics. I don't care what feats Toby or Andrew pulled off on screen, if it isn't in a comic, I won't use it.

Base Facts

Let's start off with some basic facts on the web and web shooters. The bulk of this comes directly from Marvel canon, and some comes from my own math and research.

The web is a chemical composition created by Peter Parker himself, and is similar to nylon in its chemical makeup. The web is contained in a pressurized container held on the wrist, and is pressurized at 300psi. The web is very sticky, maleable, waterproof, fireproof, bulletproof, and long lasting (approximately an hour).

My own research found that the canisters are rectangular, roughly 2" long, and carry about 26g of web fluid. The typical web shot out is an inch in diameter, but can also be shot into a net, bulkier balls of material, and thinner strands.

I thought this picture was appropriate for the next title...

I thought this picture was appropriate for the next title...

The Problem With Canon

So here's the thing:

I started off my research looking for as much canonical research as possible. Curiously, I found the exact tensile strength the web has. Tensile strength is the measurement of force that is required to pull something until it breaks. According to official Marvel canon, Spider-Man's web has a tensile strength of 120lbs/cm^2. This sounds like a lot! 120lbs to break a cm thick piece of web! Then you do the math...

Peter Parker weighs 167lbs. This means we would have a very flat Spider-Man walking to the Avengers Mansion, because the web could not support his own weight. If Spidey just hung from a strand of web and didn't move, he might be okay. Unfortunately, as soon as he starts swinging down the streets of New York, he adds kinetic force and momentum to the amount the web has to deal with, and it definitely breaks.

To put this into a real world perspective, tensile strength is usual measured in megapascals (MPa). The web has a tensile strength of aabout 5.33MPa. This is equal to concrete. Concrete may be strong, but it very easy to break (trust me on this one). Just look at how many cracks you see in a typical sidewalk.

Other frames of reference: Human skin comes in at 20MPa, and regular spider silk comes in at 1000MPa, typically due to its ability to stretch.


However, I didn't end my research there (as much as that would have been easier). I decided to challenge the canon strength given, and figure it out myself, to see if my results were different.

They were. Greatly.

For my purposes, I used the example of Spider-Man stopping a falling car with his webs, something we have seen him do many times in the comics. I said that the car weighs about 2000kg, and takes 1s to stop after the webs are attached. In most examples I found, Spider-Man catches the car with two webs, one from each hand. it isn't clear if this is necessary for strength purposes, or is just for safety, but I decided to assume it is needed. After plugging my information in, scratching my head, swearing, digging out old physics textbooks, more swearing, and more scratching my head, I found that each web has a tensile strength of 1960MPa.

This is approximately the strength of LOGGING WIRE that is TWICE as thick.

Needless to say, I like my answer more, and suspect it is closer to the truth.

What do you guys think? Do you still want Spider-Man's web? What other things do you want to see me tackle on Comic Labs? Let me know in the comics!

Until next time,