Quirks & Quarks

Researchers studying finger snapping find it's 20 times faster than the blink of an eye

Inspired by Marvel's Infinity War, this study reveals why Thanos's epic finger snap in gauntlet is impossible, but it also tells us more about the biophysics of snapping than previously known.

Inspired by a Marvel movie, this study reveals why Thanos's gauntleted finger snap is impossible

Biophysicist Saad Bhamla from Georgia Tech in Atlanta said this is the only experiment where he could snap and get data. (Georgia Tech)

A group of physicists debating the logic of Marvel movies kick-started a research project that resulted in a new understanding of just how extreme the motion of snapping your fingers is.

They were inspired by the Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War, in which the villain Thanos, in his metal infinity gauntlet, wipes out half the universe's population with the snap of his fingers.

Saad Bhamla, a biophysicist whose lab at Georgia Tech specializes in ultrafast motions in nature, led the research. The team measured finger speed, angular rotation, friction and other variables in the motion of snapping.

He told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald that he was shocked to discover that finger snapping occurs at record-breaking acceleration. It was nearly three times the rotational acceleration of the previous record measurement — a professional baseball pitcher's throwing motion. The snap happens 20 times faster than the blink of an eye. 

The angular acceleration of a professional baseball player's pitching arm is about 600 degrees per second squared compared to 1.6 million degrees per second squared for finger snapping. (Kazuhiro Fujihara/AFP via Getty Images)

He and his colleagues found that our fingers provide just the right amount of compression and friction to be perfectly suited for snapping. 

If the friction is too low, the finger and thumb can't load up enough energy to produce a snap, whereas if the friction is too high, your fingers can load up the energy, but not release it quickly enough.

This kind of information could come in handy in the design of soft robots, to better mimic the natural capabilities of our fingers. 

And if you're still wondering if Thanos could have snapped his fingers in a metal gauntlet, Bhamla said that unless he's employing some kind of alien snapping magic in his glove, the answer is no.


Produced and written by Sonya Buyting. Click on the link at the top of the page to listen to the interview with Saad Bhamla.

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