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Wallace's Wrong Trousers scientifically feasible

The gravity-defying Techno Trousers of "Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers" could actually work -- albeit for only a short period of time.

Image from the Techno Trousers Haynes manual, showing the vacuum tubes at 30. University of Leicester

When Wallace gifted his dog, Gromit, a pair of ex-NASA Techno Trousers in the 1993 Aardman film "The Wrong Trousers", it led to a chain of events involving an evil penguin and a stolen diamond. Whether or not that would actually happen in real life -- does this look like the face of evil to you? -- the trousers themselves are actually scientifically feasible, according to research conducted by students at the University of Leicester in the UK.

The group of fourth-year Physics and Astronomy students, led by Katie Raymer, calculated that the vacuum generator in the boots could, indeed, allow people to walk on the ceiling -- if the trousers could generate enough power.

All calculations were made for a single boot, since, Raymer explained, the trousers would need to be able to hold the wearer in place while the other foot was raised to make a step.

"In order for the vacuum generator in the sole of the boots to work, we assumed there is a slightly raised rubber insulator surrounding the boot of the trousers. This would create a cavity which has a lower pressure than the surroundings when the vacuum is applied," she said.

"We observed the difference in pressure between the atmosphere and the cavity and found that the vacuum generator needs to be powerful enough to reduce the atmospheric pressure inside the boot cavity by approximately 18 percent in order to create a vacuum capable of supporting Wallace and the trousers. This corresponds to a low vacuum, which has a similar strength to a vacuum cleaner."

While this could be easily replicated, the difficult lies in the power source. The trousers are powered by an internal battery, which -- judging by wireless vacuum cleaners currently on the market -- could only provide enough power for around 20 minutes of wall-walking.

The second challenge was determining whether or not the trousers would work in space, as per their original function.

"Originally the trousers were designed for use by astronauts for spacecraft repairs and other extra-vehicular activities. As the spacecraft would be in freefall at this altitude, there will be no acceleration relative to the spacecraft. The pressure in outer space is very close to a perfect vacuum," co-author Tom Morris explained.

"In order for the trousers to work, the pressure that needs to be created in the boot needs to be less than this. Achieving a pressure which would be lower than the local environment in space would be very complex and beyond the capability of the vacuum generator in the trousers."

The team believes, however, that a magnetic field generator would be able to function in space and could theoretically provide low enough pressure to power the trousers, and plans to investigate this possibility in a future paper.

You can read the paper, submitted to the student peer-reviewed Journal of Special Topics Physics, online here.