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Wednesday, 25, Apr 2007 06:15
A fully-working prototype of a suit that would enable people to climb walls and sling webs like comic book hero Spider-Man could be just ten years away.
Italian researchers say they have developed a new method for creating a surface-gripping material that mimics "spider silk" and imitates carbon nanotubes.
Stefano Mezzasalma at the University of Trieste said: "The first prototype of a Spiderman suit might be ready in a decade or so."
Scientists have developed the system by mimicking the way geckos hang upside down from walls by a single toe.
The lizards are able to adhere themselves to walls in this way due to the millions of tiny elastic hairs called setae that cover their feet.
Nicola Pugno of the Polytechnic University of Turin says he has overcome problems encountered by other scientists by employing a "hierarchal structure" of increasingly fine nanotubes.
Previous attempts to replicate Spider-Man's famous wall-climbing abilities have floundered after the human-sized nanotubes became limp and stuck to themselves, despite having an adhesive force 200 times that of the gecko's setae.
Regarding the alter ego of Peter Parker's web-slinging ability, scientists have already succeeded in making a 'cable' of four million nanotube fibres that resembles spider's silk.
As an added bonus, the 'silk' is invisible to the naked eye due to it being thinner than the wavelength of light.