Stanford to Colbert: Yes, you can climb like Spider-Man


Rarely do hosts of late-night talk shows have much to say about engineers from Cambridge and Stanford, but when the host is science-loving Stephen Colbert, things can definitely get interesting.

Last week, Cambridge University announced the results of a study saying that because the size of sticky pads on the feet of any animal that wants to climb a wall is directly proportional to the animal itself, there is a limit on the size of creatures that could climb walls like Spider-Man. And humans don’t make the cut.

“If a human, for example, wanted to walk up a wall the way a gecko does, we’d need impractically large sticky feet, said Walter Federle, senior author of a paper on the topic that appeared in the journal PNAS. “Our shoes would need to be a European size 145 or a US size 114.”

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Colbert got ahold of the news and was naturally saddened.

“Science can be a real buzzkill,” the host of CBS’ “The Late Show” said during a monologue last week. “Just ask Pluto, which used to be a planet, or cocaine, which used to be a medicine. And the latest thing being ruined by science is Spider-Man.” (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

Not to be put down by Colbert or one-upped by Cambridge, a team of Stanford engineers released a video Wednesday that shows off technology they invented in 2014 that shows Spider-Man-like powers might just be possible after all.

Their invention consists of large pads called gecko gloves that mount on the hands and use 24 tiles coated with a unique adhesive. Because force is equally distributed over these pads, it allows a person to scale a wall — not quite as smoothly and rapidly as Spider-Man, but steadily one step at a time. The pads adhere when force is applied to them, then release when that force is removed, so climbing is possible.

In the video, a Stanford representative demonstrates the device in action to an a capella version of the 1967 TV show “The Amazing Spider-Man” theme sung by The Stanford Mendicants.

“So there you go Colbert,” he says. “Spider-Man is plausible.”

OK, Mr. Late Show (and you folks at Cambridge). The sticky ball of spider goo is now in your court.