SCIENCE

Spiderman's Train-Stopping Stunt Shown Not So Unrealistic, Given Spider Silk's Strength

02/25/2013 01:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2013

Spider silk is famously strong -- ounce for ounce, it's at least five times stronger than piano wire, according to one recent study. But could a few scaled-up strands of spider silk really stop a runaway train, as they did in the 2004 blockbuster Spider-Man 2?

A new study seems to answer that question in the affirmative.

For the study, physics students at England's University of Leicester calculated the force needed to stop four speeding New York City subway cars to be 300,000 newtons, according to a written statement released by the university.

Been a while since physics class? One newton is defined as the force required to accelerate a one-kilogram mass at a rate of 1 meter per second squared -- suffice it to say that 300,000 newtons is a lot of force.

Next the students calculated the stiffness and toughness of a spider web created by a Darwin's Bark Spider, an orb-weaver species whose silk is twice as tough as any other spider's. From these calculations, the students came to the surprising conclusion that Spidey could indeed have stopped the runaway train.

"It is often quoted that spider-webs are stronger than steel, so we thought it would be interesting to see whether this held true for Spiderman's scaled-up version," one of the students, 21-year-old Alex Stone, said in the statement. "Considering the subject matter we were surprised to find out that the webbing was portrayed accurately."

The study was published in the university's Journal of Physics Special Topics.

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