It's one of the coolest scenes in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2. Peter Parker/Spider-Man uses his webs to stop an out-of-control subway train before it careens out of control and kills everyone on board. It's a rescue that requires a lot of effort for Spidey, with the hero putting his web lines to a serious test in the process, but just how scientifically possible is that scene? Can Spider-Man really stop an out of control subway train with just his webs?
That's exactly what the folks over at Nerdist's Because Science YouTube channel decided to explore in a new video, and it turns out that there's some solid scientific arguments backing up the idea that Spider-Man really could stop a train as he does in Spider-Man 2 -- with a few disclaimers.
In the video, which you can check out above, host Kyle Hill breaks down the various elements of the rescue. First, you have to recognize that the action of stopping the train in scientific terms is actual work -- that means that the kinetic energy of the train has to be transferred somewhere by the webbing in order for the train to lose speed and stop. Figuring out that kinetic energy includes calculating for the weight of the train itself, but also the weight of the train as fully loaded with passengers. Once you have that, it's a matter of figuring out if the scientific toughness of the webs would actually be up to the test.
It's the web toughness is where things get interesting. By using the amount of webbing shown in Spider-Man 2 and calculating based on the toughness of various known trains of spider silk, it's apparent that Spider-Man can't actually stop a train like that -- sort of. As Hill explains, Spider-Man could stop the train if he increased the number of webs or if the size of the webs, he used were actually larger than they appear in the brief glimpses in the film. If either of those are the case, then Spider-Man absolutely can stop the train so, technically, it's possible. It just looks a bit less cool.
What would work just as well and look equally as cool? Hill suggests that it's possible that Spider-Man's webbing has a higher scientific toughness than any known spider webbing on earth. It's an idea that really isn't that crazy because a) superpowers and b) Peter Parker is kind of a human with spider powers. That probably plays a role and, in fact, it's that concept -- that the strength and power of spider silk would be scaled up given Peter Parker's human size is much, much larger than that of a spider -- is something that a group of physics students at England's University of Leicester explored last year.
In their take, the students calculated the maximum velocity of a New York City subway train as well as the mass assuming that the train cars were all at capacity. Then, they figured out how strong the web would need to be to stop it. Taking that information as compared to the strength of the strongest spider silk on earth and scaling up for human proportion, the math works out. Spider-Man absolutely could stop a speeding subway train with his silk -- it's the human scaling that makes the difference.
Are you impressed that Spider-Man really could stop a speeding train according to science? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. As for the next time fans will get a chance to see Spider-Man and his webs in action? Spider-Man: Far From Home opens in theaters July 5th.
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