Today’s Solutions: December 01, 2021

Turns out the simple snap is a physics gold mine. Thanks to high-speed video footage from Georgia Tech in Atlanta, exactly how impressive the movement is has been exposed.

The research group, led by Saad Bhamla, actually took inspiration from Marvel’s 2018 smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos, the evil villain in the story, uses his superpower snap whilst wearing a metal glove to wipe out half of the universe. They wanted to investigate if a snap in such a rigid glove would even be possible. “We got into this heated debate, trying to understand if he could actually snap or not,” Bhamla said. “This is how this whole thing got started because we want to figure out the key ingredients required to snap our fingers.”

After recording the event, the results showed that the finger pads ability to compress is a key factor behind it. When adding lubrication into the equation, the snap fell short, emphasizing friction as a key parameter also. The report, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, showed the impressive seven millisecond time period of the snap – around 20 times as fast as a blink of the eye! The finger also accelerates at a rate of 1.6 million degrees per millisecond, three times the amount of a professional baseball player’s arm when pitching.

“Based on ancient Greek art from 300 B.C., humans may very well have been snapping their fingers for hundreds of thousands of years before that, yet we are only now beginning to scientifically study it,” said Bhamla. “This is the only scientific project in my lab in which we could snap our fingers and get data.” Understanding this mechanism isn’t just interesting, but also important for biomechanics. The forces behind the highspeed event may be able to be applied to high-tech prosthetic hands, creating more realistic and free flowing movements.

So the verdict on Thanos’ snap? The team tested the power and speed of the finger snap wearing thimbles, though the results fell short. The metal armor would have not provided enough friction or compressibility, resulting in sluggish snaps. In this round of physics vs supervillains, physics came out on top.

Source study: Journal of the Royal Society InterfaceThe ultrafast snap of a finger is mediated by skin friction

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