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No Spiderman Suit Anytime Soon

Gloves that mimic gecko or spider feet could work in theory, but actually making them will be a challenge.
August 31, 2007

Carbon-nanotube-encrusted gloves could allow humans to climb walls and dangle from the ceiling, if they so choose. So says Nicola Pugno, a professor at the Politecnico di Torino, in Italy, who just published a paper on the topic in the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. He calculated that tiny forces attracting billions of the nanoscopic tubes to the surfaces of walls could add up to enough stickiness to support a human.

Such gloves are clearly of the utmost importance to astronauts and cat burglars. But don’t expect results very soon. Recently, Ali Dhinojwala, a professor of polymer science at the University of Akron, and his colleagues actually made carbon-nanotube-encrusted tape that sticks to walls like gecko feet. But it performed much worse than expected. Earlier, when the researchers had tested small samples of the nanotubes, they stuck 200 times stronger than gecko feet did. But the larger tape was only four times stickier. Gloves made with this tape might have to resemble big paddles if they’re to provide enough stickiness to hold up a human. What’s more, the tape only works if it’s pressed hard against a surface–a feat that could require superhuman strength.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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