Pseudoscience: How do Spidey’s web shooters function?

What makes superheroes stand out are their abilities: like Thor’s lightning, or their iconic weapons like Mjolnir. Some stand out due to their scientific aptitude (Iron Man), while some augment their supernatural abilities with science. One such nerd is Peter Parker, aka your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The wall crawler is known for continuously evolving his tech, from his webs, to trackers, to even drones. Throughout the comics, one feature that remains iconic are his web shooters, after all, what use is a spider if it can’t shoot webs? So let’s deep dive and find out what goes behind making these webs.

I tried calling Spidey directly to write this piece, but he called it an Intellectual Property Rights issue, and also that he wanted to keep his research private, so I respect that. Do bear in mind that these are the writer’s speculative scientific theories, so do not go in your labs and conjure up the hocus-pocus mentioned below!

First things first, Spidey’s webs can stop a moving train. That is impressive durability, making it seem like these webs are designed using carbon nanotubes, as these are the only feasible materials that have such extreme ductility and strength. Also, they are not just parallel projectiles, they are intertwined, twisted helically and are adhesive on both sides. This helps it stick to any surface it comes in contact with as they are shot out. But one question on everyone’s mind is the way it is pressurized from a shooter, in which it is stored as a pellet. The only way this is possible is so that the nanotubes, being extremely fine in structure and durable (thinner than a hair) are able to rolled into an elliptical yarn like structure.This structure is under immense pressure and stored inside a shooter for use. Each of these yarns shoot up to 2 kilometers of webbing length.

For ease of explanation, we shall divide Spidey’s webbing into 3 categories – web swing, projectile webbing and wrap webbing.

The first one is explained above,  whereas the second and third are a bit complicated. Projectile webbing can be explained by the fact that the stored pellet is broken into different fragments and moulded into different balls of webbing. This gives it more momentum when fired and is useful for knocking weapons off people. The synthesis of these projectiles must be taken care of by the shooter mechanism, as there must be different buttons on Spidey’s shooters for each type of webbing.

The third type is where the shooter earns its money and it’s versatility really comes to the forefront. Wrap webbing follows a boomerang sort of trajectory where it curls around the enemy. This curve can be thought to be imparted the same way a footballer applies curve to a ball using the side of his foot to finesse it, giving it more accuracy than power. A third button can impart a side foot motion to the web, thereby curling it around the enemy and wrapping them to the point of immobility.

So there we have it. Although having superpowers seems awesome, it’s what you do with it that counts because, as they say, with great power, comes great responsibility. There’s always more to every superhero than meets the eye.

Written in loving memory of Stan the Man. Excelsior!

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Sai Sudhir

Just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man fanboy who loves food, fiction and sports.

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