GS#2: Is It Scientifically Possible To Climb Walls Like Spiderman?

Here’s your second serving for the Geeky Science meal course, my friends, and I hope you enjoy it!  This post is going to focus on the question of whether or not it is scientifically possible to climb walls like Spiderman – can we be the heroic man in red and blue spandex, or will he always be only in our dreams?  Read on to find out!

Climb Walls Like Spiderman

geeky science climb walls like spiderman


How Spiders Climb Walls

If we’re going to have Spiderman-like climbing abilities, we’re going to first need to understand what helps our eight-legged friends quickly shimmy up walls.  Thankfully, since I don’t have an SEM microscope in my living room, a group of German scientists have already done this for us – a while ago, actually.

A group of scientists from the Institute of Technical Zoology and Bionics in Germany studied the feet of jumping spiders with their high-tech microscope, and made some interesting conclusions: on the bottom of a spider’s foot are tiny hairs. On these tiny hairs are even tinier hairs, and these hairs are called setules.


is it possible to climb walls like spiderman? geeky science series


Setules are microscopic hairs that come to a triangular point.  These hairs work through the principles of Van Der Waals forces, not really relevant to our discussion, and the scientists estimated that these 600,000 hairs which come into contact with the surface that the spider is climbing allows them to hold over 170 times their own weight.

170 Times Their Own Weight?!

Yes, 170 times their own weight.  Andrew Martin, a member in the group of researchers discussed above, put the findings in a way that I couldn’t help but reference:

That’s like Spider-man clinging to the flat surface of a window on a building by his fingertips and toes only, whilst rescuing 170 adults who are hanging onto his back!

So, in conclusion, YESSSS!  This is a positive sign for the geeky science series, folks – we may just have a winner.  But, now that we know it would be possible for these setules to hold humans up, do we have the technology to actually implement this newfound intelligence?

Technological Possibilites

Researchers have speculated that by using the same general principles as those used by the setules, we would be able to create surfaces that stick using van der waals forces, but we aren’t sure how powerful we would be able to make those forces become.  Some possible (practical) applications that have been mentioned by the research team include:

  • Spacesuits for astronauts that stick to walls in zero gravity situations
  • Sticky notes that work even when they get wet or greasy

Since nobody immediately suggested “Spiderman suit that gives us the ability to climb walls,” I’m guessing that we’re farther away from our goal than we thought a couple paragraphs ago.

The Verdict

Possibility (1 – 10) : 6

Creating a suit that uses the principles of setules does not seem as incredibly far away as building a portal gun.  We know that, hypothetically, these tiny hairs would be able to easily hold a human, but we also know that we aren’t God: there are limitations to how well we can manufacture microscopic hairs with triangular ends.

And then, there’s price.  The six is for creating anything at all close: unless you’re a leading researcher in this field, chances are that you will never see a mass-produced Spiderman suit – it would be way to expensive – probably hundreds of millions of dollars or more!

So, my friends, we’re closer than we were on the last post, but we’re still not at something that seems extremely feasible in today’s world.  It doesn’t appear that anyone will be able to climb walls like Spiderman anytime soon.

Be sure to leave a comment below if you have anything to add, and make sure to check out tomorrow’s post!  If you want to be able to quickly navigate to all of the Geeky Science posts, just visit the introduction page.