Awesome Con is a comic convention that takes place in Washington D.C. This year’s event runs from today (June 16th) until the 18th and the weekend is full of nerdy fun, including a video game arcade and panels about everything from comics and cosplay to the LGBTQ community. Among these panels is one centered on the powers of the amazing Spider-Man and their possible real-world applications. This panel will be led by UA’s own Todd Blackledge and CPSPE’s Ali Dhinojwala, along with Virginia Tech’s Brent Opell.
Blackledge and Opell are both biologists, and Dhinojwala is the Morton Professor of Polymer Science. In the past, Dhinojwala and his team have worked with spiders and geckos to study adhesion and friction, two dynamics that are very important to our favorite wall-crawling super-teen. They have developed a tape based on their research of geckos that can stick to many surfaces and is incredibly strong, even after multiple uses.
Dhinojwala has worked with Blackledge before while studying spider silk and the qualities that make it similar to human muscles. Spider silk is incredibly strong and resilient, and it expands and contracts when exposed to changes in humidity, very similar to the manner in which a human muscle expands and contracts. During their research they estimated that spider silk, when bundled together to create a strand less than one inch thick, may be capable of hoisting and lowering an entire Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Armed with new knowledge of adhesives and spider silk’s properties, Dhinojwala, Blackledge, and Opell are marching into Awesome Con with the intention of teaching more people about their research and why it’s important. Hypothetically, we could treat these ultra-strong bundled strands of silk as synthetic muscles for robot appendages, among other things. There are real world applications for spiders’ silk, so why not make Spider-Man a reality too?
That’s why their Awesome Con panel “Science of Spider-Man,” which takes place on Sunday at 12:45 PM in the convention center, is welcoming convention-goers of all ages to sit in and learn about how science makes it possible to bring those super powers to life.
Would you become Spider-Man if you had the chance?