As far as life-ending gestures go, the snap was always kind of goofy. And don’t tell me the snap was just a visual way to depict Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet-powered action. He literally had to snap his fingers! Captain Marvel holds his fingers apart to try to keep him from rubbing his gauntleted digits together! The finger-snap mattered, for no justifiable reason other than that we now get to refer to the Snapture, and that portmanteau is good.
But it also was just silly. You have infinite power, you just do what you want. You don’t have to act like you’re kicking off a jam session. And besides that? It’s impossible to snap one’s fingers while wearing a giant metal glove. Science has proven this.
Yes, okay, technically Thanos’ exact snap cannot be replicated. Not even scientists have access to a tacky and overlarge gauntlet made of Uru metal, forged by dwarves and bedazzled with Infinity Stones. But they do have the ability to study how exactly our fingers work. In a recent paper, a group of researchers determined that “ultrafast snap of a finger is mediated by skin friction.” Ars Technica spoke to the researchers, who were partly inspired to do the work after seeing Avengers: Infinity War.
The paper gives a lot of detail about the mechanics of the finger snap, but it basically boils down to this: a snap requires skin, which creates the perfect combination of friction and pressure. Or, as the paper’s abstract puts it, “the compressible, frictional latch of the finger pads likely operates in a regime optimally tuned for both friction and compression.” Metal-clad fingers—Thanos’ or Tony Stark’s, for that matter—just don’t cut it.
This research isn’t just about proving that Thanos couldn’t have done what he did with his big metal hand; it’s also relevant to soft robotics, where the findings may be useful for “improving the manipulative capabilities of robotic systems.”
Yes, I know: It’s science fiction! (Or science fantasy.) They can do whatever they want! Maybe the power stone creates friction! I don’t know! Science doesn’t know! But digging into how movie storytelling works (or doesn’t) is one of the great joys of being a nerd. Give me a thousand papers on the improbability of the snap or essays on the absurdity of data storage in Star Wars: Rogue One. I will read (or at least skim) them all.
And maybe next time a big purple guy wants to thoughtlessly destroy half of all life, leaving the rest of us with biological chaos and stomachaches, he can find a more impressive and practical way to do so.