Helping Marvel superheroes to breathe

The use of microfluidic components such as Knudsen pumps and microscale gas compressors could be embedded into the helmets of Ant-Man and the Wasp to help them breathe at the microscale.


Wonder comics superheroes Ant-Man and the Wasp—nom de guerre stars of the eponymous 2018 film—have the capacity to briefly shrink down to the measure of creepy crawlies, while holding the mass and quality of their ordinary human bodies.

However, another investigation proposes that, when bug-sized, Ant-Man and the Wasp would confront genuine difficulties, including oxygen deprivation.

Mikel-Stites and his counsel, Anne Staples, a partner teacher in the biomedical designing and mechanics office at Virginia Tech, regularly contemplate biological fluid dynamics, with a specific spotlight on insect respiration and bug scale fluid flows.

Staples’ lab has created microfluidic gadgets roused by creepy crawly respiratory frameworks in which the stream rate and heading of course through individual divert in the gadget can be controlled without the utilization of valves.

Scientists hope that the study could reduce the actuation machinery needed for microfluidic devices used in many different scientific fields, and make them more portable and cost-efficient.

During their study, scientists determined that the atmospheric thickness—basically, the quantity of particles (say, of oxygen) in a given volume of air—experienced by the bug-sized saints is diminished to a dimension about indistinguishable to that of Mt. Everest’s supposed “passing zone,” where there isn’t sufficient oxygen for a human to breathe.

Mikel-Stites explained, “While the actual atmospheric density is the same for an insect and a human, the subjective atmospheric density experienced by a human who shrinks to insect size changes. For example, a normal-sized person taking a deep breath can expect to inhale some number of oxygen molecules. However, when that person is shrunk down to the size of an ant, despite still needing the same number of oxygen molecules, far fewer are available in a single breath of air.”

The “death zone” begins for a normal-sized human about 8,000 meters above sea level. The shrunken superheroes, the researchers calculated, would feel like they were at an altitude of 7,998 meters, and that would make for a serious—if not deadly—case of altitude sickness.

He said, “For someone not acclimated, symptoms of altitude sickness range from a headache and dizziness to the buildup of fluid in the lungs and brain, and possibly death. This occurs in part because people may respond by trying to breathe more rapidly, to increase their oxygen intake, and because the body is attempting to function with less oxygen than it normally does.”

Scientists found, “And that’s not the extent of Ant-Man’s and the Wasp’s problems. Based on a relationship known as Kleiber’s law, which correlates the metabolic rate of an animal to its size, the researchers found that the metabolic rates per unit mass of the superheroes at bug size would increase by approximately two orders of magnitude—as would their oxygen demands.”

According to Mikel-Stites, the use of microfluidic components such as Knudsen pumps (which are driven by temperature gradients) and microscale gas compressors, could be embedded into the helmets of Ant-Man and the Wasp to help them breathe at the microscale.

Those challenges, along with their solution-microfluidic technologies, will be described by engineering mechanics graduate student Max Mikel-Stites of Virginia Tech at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics 71st Annual Meeting, which will take place Nov. 18-20 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

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