#### Blogs

• News
• |
• Art
• |
• History
• |
• Food and Travel
• |
• Science
 Keeping You Current Scenes and sightings from Smithsonian museums and beyond

## February 28, 2013 9:30 am

### Could Spider Silk Stop a Moving Train?

Spider-Man’s silk could have stopped a moving train—if his silk resembled the stuff produced by the Darwin’s bark spider, which lives in Madagascar and builds enormous 80-foot wide webs.

A team from the University of Leicester set out to test the reality of this hypothetical hero move from the second Spider-Man movie, Wired reports:

First, the team calculated how much four R160 New York City subway cars — packed with a total of 984 people — would weigh (about 200,000 kilograms, or roughly 10 Atlas V rockets). Then, they calculated how fast the train was going (24 meters per second, or about 53 miles per hour) and how much resistance the track would have offered as it charged forward (negligible). From there, they could work out how much force the webbing would have needed to exert upon the train to stop it: about 300,000 Newtons, or about 12 times the amount of force exerted by a large American alligator as its jaws snap shut.

Figures in hand, the team considered the way trains, webs and anchor buildings would interact geometrically and how much tensile strength a line of web would need in order to hold up a train without snapping.

After crunching the numbers, they found that Spider-Man could indeed have saved that train from plummeting off the track. Spiders such as the Darwin’s black spider produce silk with strength values of 1.5 to 12 gigapascals. Scale those values to a human-sized spindle of silk and web, and the calculations add up to amazing, train-stopping abilities.

More from Smithsonian.com:

## February 20, 2013 8:57 am

### Mississippi Officially Ratifies Amendment to Ban Slavery, 148 Years Late

Nearly 150 years after the Thirteenth Amendment’s adoption, Mississippi finally caught on and officially ratified a ban on slavery. According to Time, the movie Lincoln helped spark this sudden call to action.

The story began in November last year, when Ranjan Batra, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, went to see director Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated historical drama Lincolnreports the Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger. Spielberg’s civics lesson tells the story of the final months of President Abraham Lincoln’s life and his efforts to get the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed by the House of Representatives.

Interest piqued, Batra wondered what happened to the amendment once it was passed. As it turns out, it went on to be adopted in under a year when 27 of the 36 then-existing states ratified it, in 1865. Mississippi, the final hold-out, only ratified the amendment in 1995. However, Batra noticed a provoking detail on the website usconstitution.net—Mississippi never formally notified the U.S. archivist of its belated decision. In other words, the 1995 ratification was unofficial.

Batra mentioned the oversight to a friend, Ken Sullivan, who recalled the 1995 debate over the law and tracked down a copy of the resolution. It had been passedby the Mississippi Senate and House — unanimously, recalled the bill’s introcuder, Sen. Hillman Frazier to the Clarion-Ledger — but inexplicably had never beensent to the Office of the Federal Register.

With Batra’s prompting, the state hustled to correct the oversight by filing the necessary paperwork. On February 7, Mississippi received word from the Federal Register that confirmed it had officially ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. Senator Frazier remarked, “We finally got it right.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

## December 17, 2012 10:30 am

### If Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Looks Weird to You, Blame the Guy Who Created Oakley Sunglasses

You might have heard that The Hobbit looks kind of weird. The movie was shot with a special camera developed by the founder of Oakley sunglasses (weirdly enough), at 48 frames per second (fps). That frame rate seem to make people generally unhappy.Here’s The Village Voice:

Available for viewing only in select cinemas in major cities (the rest will feature a standard 24-frame presentation), this “high-frame rate” Hobbit features exceptionally sharp, plasticine images the likes of which we might never have seen on a movie screen before….Whereas video-shot “films” have labored for years to approximate the look of celluloid, Jackson goes whole hog in the opposite direction, the idea being that this acute video quality comes closer to the way the human eye perceives reality. Fair enough, but the reality Jackson conjures isn’t quite the one he intends: Instead of feeling like we’ve been transported to Middle-earth, it’s as if we’ve dropped in on Jackson’s New Zealand set, trapped in an endless “making of” documentary, waiting for the real movie to start.

Others loved it. Wired says:

In the 48-frames-per-second version of Hobbit, Middle-earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama. The film will also be released at the standard 24 fps, but Jackson sees the high-speed format as the “premium version” of his vision because it essentially doubles the amount of visual data projected onto the screen. At 48 fps, images appear more precise and 3D action becomes smoother, without the blur that can occur when the camera pans too quickly or objects move rapidly across the frame.

Peter Jackson isn’t that worried about it. He says:

I’m fascinated by reactions. I’m tending to see that anyone under the age of 20 or so doesn’t really care and thinks it looks cool, not that they understand it but they often just say that 3D looks really cool. I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting, but it’s the 48 that actually allows 3D to almost achieve the potential that it can achieve because it’s less eye strain and you have a sharper picture which creates more of the 3-dimensional world.

The camera that Jackson used to shoot the entire movie was developed by Jim Jannard, the founder of Oakley. Forbes spoke with Jackson about it:

It seemed like the major camera-makers–the big companies–were not really providing the sort of image quality; They were heavy, and they were very, very expensive. And so suddenly RED shows up, with Jim Jannard, and he’s got some very interesting revolutionary ideas about how to improve the picture quality, make the cameras light and small, and bring their price down. And so that sort of appealed to me–it’s a maverick approach. It’s the sort of approach in which things advance–by somebody like Jim Jannard coming along to do that, and forcing the big companies to basically pick up their game.

As tends to be the case when two extremely wealthy people meet and want to do something, the rest was easy. And so the 48 fps adventure began and ended on your screen.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Posted By: Cool Finds,Movies |

## November 29, 2012 1:58 pm

### In Denmark, Cinderella Wore Galoshes

You think you know all about Cinderella, right? She works for her mean step-mother and horrible step-sisters, all the while dreaming of going to the ball. Because she is so good and fair, she is helped out by a fairy godmother, a team of woodland creatures and some pumpkins. Eventually, she meets her prince but must flee at the stroke of midnight, leaving behind the glass slipper, which her prince uses to find her. They, of course, live happily ever after.

Sure, that’s the Disney version. And it’s a good example of “Tales of the Persecuted Heroine,” which usually goes exactly how you would image—a heroine is persecuted for no reason and overcomes her captors. Classic princess stuff. But Cinderella isn’t a Disney story, and earlier versions are, well, different. At Tabled Fables, a podcast about fairytales, they describe some alternate Cinderella stories.

Other versions of the story, for example, leave out the fairy Godmother. Instead, they’ve got magical plants or talking animals that help out. Another detail that tends to change is just what Cinderella has on her feet. In the Disney version, she’s wearing glass slippers. But out of 345 different versions of the story, only 6 of them mentioned a glass slipper. There were golden shoes, there were jeweled shoes and, in the Danish version, she’s wearing galoshes. Even in the Disney version it probably wasn’t even supposed to be a glass slipper—the original description was actually for slippers made of squirrel fur. A mistranslation turned it into glass.

So next time you dress up for Cinderella for Halloween, you could opt for a pair of squirrel fur slippers or some rain boots and still be true to the story—and probably far more comfortable.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Posted By: Books,Cool Finds,Movies |

## November 9, 2012 2:15 pm

### Bond Villains’ Evil Plans Could Have Worked Out in the Real World

Daniel Craig plays James Bond in Skyfall.

Starting with Ian Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale, and continuing today with Skyfall, out in North America, Mr. James Bond has been fighting and seducing his way across the planet, thwarting bad guy after bad guy in a bid to save the world from evil machinations with varying degrees of both evilness and complexity.

Over the years, some of Bond’s villains’ plans have been kind of outlandish. Others, though, haven’t been all that bad. Former CIA intelligence analyst Mark Stout and cold war historian Edward Geist point out to the CBC three examples of plans that might actually have worked, had Mr. Bond not interfered:

• On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceBond stops the use of a crop-destroying bio-weapon. Stout says, “This is actually something that during the Cold War the United States worried about quite a bit — that the Soviets might do this to American crops.”
• Casino Royale: “[A] shady operator named Le Chiffre attempts to make a financial killing by short-selling his stock in a major airline before launching a terrorist attack on one of its planes. …Stout says that right after the 9/11 attacks, analysts noticed seemingly unusual trading activity with the stock of some of the airlines involved in that disaster.”
• Octopussy: “[A] rogue general in the Soviet military, schemes to detonate a nuclear bomb in West Germany, blame it on the Americans and use it as a pretext for the Soviets to invade Western Europe. …While Geist concedes “the Soviets were never really inclined to do something like that,” he says that carrying out General Orlov’s plot “would have seriously complicated NATO policy in that era.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

« Previous PageNext Page »